Cape airport's fourth flight has mixed results

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Ridership has increased 9 percent, which is far short of expectations.

The fourth daily round-trip flight from Cape Girardeau Regional Airport has been a mixed success, according to airport manager Bruce Loy.

"The passenger totals are up and we're happy to have an increase, but I'd like to see it up more," he said.

Since the first midday flight took off Feb. 14, Loy said, ridership has increased 9 percent compared to the same period in 2005. However, he said, that is not quite up to expectations when the change was made.

"The idea was to get more people into the airport, and we've been successful at that. We've brought more attention to the air service here. But I'm anxious to see what happens in August and September," Loy said.

Ridership has been uneven. In February, ticketed passengers were up 27.7 percent compared to the same month in 2005, but in July there was no increase.

If the average 9 percent increase continues, the one-year total will bump the passenger load up to 8,000, an increase from the previous year's total of approximately 7,500 but a far cry from what the airport wants.

"The ultimate goal is to hit 10,000 passengers, but we said at the beginning if we could hit something in the 9,000 range we would consider it successful," Loy said.

The figure 10,000 is something of a magic number for the airport. Airports with 10,000 or more passengers are eligible to receive at least $1 million in annual airport improvement grants from the FAA.

The fourth round-trip costs between $22,000 and $24,000 per month in operational costs. The airport pays 20 percent of that with carrier RegionsAir paying the rest.

In addition to those costs, the airport launched an advertising campaign costing between $50,000 and $60,000 to complement the fourth round trip. The campaign includes television, print and Interstate 55 billboard spots to highlight both the additional flight and Cape Girardeau's air service. The airport pays 20 percent of the advertising.

Loy believes this has been a success. "I would have people come up to me from surrounding areas and they didn't even know we had air service out of Cape, so anything we can do to increase awareness is worth it," he said.

Members of the Airport Advisory Board remain optimistic, saying it will likely take more than a year to fully understand the impact of the added flight.

"I think you have to look at it from a cyclical viewpoint," said board member J. Fred Waltz. "It takes a little time to start up, so I don't take much stock in the 9 percent increase as a measure of its success. When we get to the fall and the holiday season, I'd like to see what the numbers look like then."

Both Waltz and Gerry Keene, another board member, believe that smaller airports like Cape Girardeau could get an unexpected boost from increased security measures.

"I think a lot of people are starting to realize it's easier to go through security here rather than fly up to St. Louis and wait in long lines there, so that could actually help," Waltz said.

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