No. 6: Airport boardings increase with Dallas jet service

12/24/2012

Editor's note: This is the fifth in a series of stories featuring The Telegram's top 10 news stories of 2012.

Editor's note: This is the fifth in a series of stories featuring The Telegram's top 10 news stories of 2012.

BY SCOTT AUST

saust@gctelegram.com

The addition in April of a new air carrier offering twice-daily service from Garden City to Dallas has been wildly successful in increasing the number of monthly boardings.

Between April and the end of November, boardings at Garden City Regional Airport had already 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 in a Telegram story earlier this month.

The success of American Eagle flights and its potential future impact is No. 6 on The Telegram's list of top stories of the year.

On April 3, American Eagle regional jet service began offering twice-daily flights between Garden City and Dallas, replacing daily flights to and from Denver International Airport operated by Wyoming-based Great Lakes Aviation. Both are services supported by the Essential Air Service program.

The federal U.S. Department of Transportation EAS program makes commercial air service at small or rural airports across the nation possible by subsidizing the cost of air travel.

City officials opted for Eagle based on positive feedback from the community, in addition to passenger traffic studies completed in 2011 by Sixel Consulting Group, an Oregon-based consultant specializing in air transportation, all in the hopes of enhancing future air service.

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 were 13,297 boardings, which by itself exceeds the 11,690 recorded in all of 2011.

Airport officials have said a number of factors 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.

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

The increased boardings also means 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. Continued success also could make the airport more profitable and wean the airport off the EAS subsidy in the future.

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. Boardings are projected to continue to increase over the next couple of years, and if the projections hold true it could potentially mean an increase in the number of daily flights.

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