Waiting less, flying more

Thursday, March 21, 2002

Business at the Cape Girardeau Regional Airport took off last April. And after suffering some turbulence in September and October, it's ascending rapidly this year.

The airport has seen an increase of 460 departures -- or 45 percent --after the first two months of 2002 compared to the same time last year.

It has shown by far the biggest year-to-year increase in the last two months of any of Corporate Airline's 10 stations that provide flights to St. Louis, said Chuck Howell, Corporate Airlines president.

Building on reputation

Howell and airport manager Bruce Loy both agree that a number of factors have contributed to the increase, including developing a better reputation and more convenient services than what large airports can provide.

Corporate Airlines operates American Connection, which is the only airline at the Cape Girardeau airport.

"Clearly, Cape has been the shining star as far as the double-digit increases," said Howell, who added that flights are up companywide. "It's been exciting because a year ago, we couldn't seem to get it jump-started."

In February, 773 people boarded planes at Cape Girardeau. That's 299 more people than February 2001, an increase of 63 percent

Howell said the next largest increase among Corporate's 10 stations was 20 percent by the airport in Quincy, Ill. Cape Girardeau now ranks fourth in total number of passengers among the 10 stations. Last year, it ranked near the bottom.

Loy cited a common explanation as to why all the Corporate stations have shown an increase: Smaller airports mean shorter waits.

At St. Louis' Lambert Airport, passengers are asked to arrive two hours early due to tighter security requirements since Sept. 11. At the Cape Girardeau airport, it is recommended that passengers arrive an hour early, Loy said, but patrons do not have to stand in line.

That's one reason Donna Calvert, of Leopold, Mo., plans to fly from Cape Girardeau to Canada in June. She was at the airport Wednesday to pick up relatives.

"It's a lot easier here than to go through St. Louis," Calvert said. "There's not hundreds and hundreds of people here to wait on."

Though the September attacks may have helped boost business, the Cape Girardeau airport showed signs of climbing well before then.

According to numbers provided by the airport, increases in boardings began last April and continued through August.

The terrorist attacks had an immediate impact on the airport with 150 fewer departures in September 2001 than in 2000. And in October, 16 fewer passengers left from Cape Girardeau than the year prior.

But the upward trend started again in November and hasn't let up.

Loy and Howell agree that an improved reputation is what started the increases last April, which marked about one year of Corporate's service at Cape Girardeau.

Before American Connection provided flights here, Trans States was Cape Girardeau's only airline. Its overall service was inconsistent, Loy said, and timeliness was a problem.

Winning customer trust

Howell said it took Corporate about a year to build up a reputation for reliable service.

"Once the message got out there, which took longer than we thought, then boom, it started hitting on all cylinders and it has taken off ever since," Howell said. "It's been rewarding for me. It's been like a parent watching your kid get low grades for a long time then all of a sudden he starts bringing home A's."

Rick Williams of Dexter, Mo., who caught a flight out of Cape Girardeau Wednesday, wasn't worried so much about reputation. He wanted a good deal.

He said he looked up rates on the Internet and found that his fare to New Orleans from Cape Girardeau through St. Louis was $100 cheaper than if he drove to St. Louis to catch a flight. That made his decision easy.

"I've found that airlines do some weird stuff when it comes to pricing," he said. "Plus, there's the convenience. Who wants to drive to St. Louis if you can fly out of Cape?"

Raylene Snider of Sikeston, Mo., agreed.

"I just don't want to drive an extra two-and-a-half hours to St. Louis and wait another two hours in line," she said. "And I feel more secure flying out of here."

Loy said his goal is for the airport to get up to 10,000 passengers annually. Once that happens, the airport will be eligible for $1 million per year in federal funds.

"That gives us funding to do repairs and add facilities to the airfield," Loy said. "That money has certain guidelines. It has to be used for the good of the public and the safety of the airfield."

Loy said the airport reached the 10,000-passenger mark in 1998 and 1999, but that number dropped when Procter & Gamble stopped using the airport for its charter flights.

Previously received federal money was used to update and renovate the airport terminal, Loy said.

bmiller@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 127

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