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Cape airport boardings drop 17 percent for first quarter

Friday, May 28, 2004

The Cape Girardeau Regional Airport terminal seems a little lonelier these days as passenger boardings have plummeted this year. Boardings through the first three months of this year dropped by 17 percent.

That amounted to 414 fewer passengers taking American Connection commuter airline flights to the St. Louis airport. In all, 1,997 passengers flew out of the Cape Girardeau airport through the first four months of 2004 compared with 2,411 during the same period last year, city records show.

American Connection is the only commuter airline that provides flights to and from Cape Girardeau. Those flights all go to St. Louis, a hub for American Airlines. But cost-cutting measures implemented by the major airline have reduced the number of American Airlines flights out of St. Louis, making it harder for passengers to schedule convenient flights, said Cape Girardeau airport manager Bruce Loy.

"There are less destinations out of St. Louis, which means less overall connections," Loy said.

Cape Girardeau Airport Board member Mark Seesing said the drop in local boardings is "a major concern."

With the reduction in service, more people are driving to Memphis and Nashville, Tenn., to catch flights, Seesing said.

That makes it even harder for the city to reach the goal of 10,000 boardings a year in commuter and charter flights needed to guarantee additional federal funding for the airport, he said.

Loy said the city was close to reaching 10,000 boardings in 2002 with the figure reaching more than 9,000, but the numbers have declined since then. American Connection boarded 7,994 passengers in 2003, a decrease of over 11 percent from 2002, city figures show.

Fourth St. Louis flightCorporate Airlines, which does business as American Connection, currently offers three round-trip flights daily from the Cape Girardeau airport. A fourth daily flight to and from St. Louis could help boost boardings at the Cape Girardeau airport, but securing funding for it has been a problem, Loy said.

The city could receive a $500,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation to help subsidize such a flight, but only if there is a local match of about $100,000, Loy said.

The grant program seeks to have businesses commit money to "travel trust" accounts to fly out of the Cape Girardeau airport. The money would raise the local match.

But airport officials and the commuter airline so far have failed to get businesses to buy into the program.

Loy said the city's opportunity to tap into the grant money will end soon. "At this stage of the game, we really only have until the end of August to try to work something out," he said.

City officials might consider trying to get a commuter airline connection to Memphis, but that would mean the city would need to convince another commuter airline affiliated with a different major airline to fly here.

Loy said it would take support from local businesses before the city could even take a serious look at trying to land a Memphis connection.

Ultimately, he said, boosting passenger boardings depends less on commuter airlines and more on the major airlines and the major flights commuter passengers are trying to catch.

"If things improve for American Airlines, things will improve here," Loy said.

mbliss@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 123

ALL ABOARD

Cape Girardeau Regional Airport boardings decreased by 17 percent from last year:20032004
January611466
February527421
March642547
April631563 Total2,4111,997

SOURCE: City of Cape Girardeau


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