Enplanement numbers reaching new heights

12/6/2012

Through November, airport has seen 16,051 passengers.

Through November, airport has seen 16,051 passengers.

BY SCOTT AUST

saust@gctelegram.com

In just the last eight months, boardings at Garden City Regional Airport have surpassed the total number of boardings in all of 2011, thanks largely to the huge success of twice daily round-trip flights to Dallas-Fort Worth by air carrier American Eagle.

"American Eagle basically doubled our passenger load," Rachelle Powell, director of aviation, said Wednesday.

In November, 1,972 passengers boarded planes at Garden City's airport, bringing total boardings for the year so far to 16,051. Since American Eagle began operating at the airport in April, there have been 13,297 boardings, which by itself exceeds the 11,690 recorded in all of 2011.

American Eagle offers two round-trip flights per day between Garden City and Dallas that are federally subsidized through the Essential Air Service program. The EAS program subsidy helps ensure air service at rural airports by reducing air travel costs.

Garden City Mayor David Crase said American Eagle's success is great for the airport, the city and the region.

"I'm very happy people have embraced American Eagle and are using it, not only Garden City folks but all of southwest Kansas. I can hardly wait to see what next year brings. I hope we can be around 20,000 to 25,000 boardings next year," Crase said.

Powell said a number of factors have contributed to increased boardings, including the price of fares, the reliability of American Eagle, the connections that Dallas offers to other destinations and even the type of aircraft the airline uses.

"The aircraft itself is a regional jet. It seats more passengers and is a larger aircraft," she said.

Before American Eagle, Garden City was served by Great Lakes Aviation with turbo-prop aircraft that were a little smaller and offered flights to and from Denver. Powell said both types of aircraft are safe, but she speculated some people may feel a little more comfortable with the larger jet.

In addition, she said, Dallas offers more connections both in the country and internationally through its association with American Airlines, which has partnerships with seven different international carriers.

"So a passenger in Garden City can buy a ticket to England, and it's a seamless transition. One ticket. One price. Baggage automatically transfers. So that helps, as well," Powell said.

The increased boardings also mean Garden City can tap into additional federal funding to make improvements at the airport. Powell said because the airport exceeded 10,000 boardings this year, it will receive $1 million in federal funding for airport improvements. She said the airport will use the money to buy snow removal equipment and make taxiway improvements in 2014.

Currently, the cross wind runway on one end doesn't have an access point, which creates a runway safety issue, Powell said. As a result, the airport will be building a new taxiway and rebuilding an existing taxiway.

If boardings in December, a traditionally travel-heavy month, follow the current trend, Garden City boardings could end up at more than 18,000 for the year. Powell said boardings are projected to continue to increase over the next couple of years, and if the projections hold true, it could mean an increase in the number of daily flights.

Powell said the airport's current load factor, essentially how full the planes are, is about 75 percent. When the load factor gets around 85 percent or higher per month, she said, it could prompt American Eagle to add a third daily flight.

"So we're getting there," she said.

Crase said increased activity at the airport shows Garden City is becoming a regional hub again.

"And that's what we want. We want Garden City to be the regional hub for retail, the regional hub for traveling," he said.

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