Faced with the likelihood Delta Air Lines will end its service to the Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport, airport commissioners informally decided Friday to put the facility’s best foot forward in the form of a marketing campaign.
The airport commission’s marketing committee will meet Thursday and invite representatives of the Brainerd Lakes Chamber and Brainerd Lakes Area Economic Development Corp. to the meeting. The group will meet in the Crow Wing County administrator’s conference room at a time to be determined later. Friday’s Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport Commission was also conducted in the conference room because of terminal remodeling at the airport.
Commissioners noted the airport’s assets included the ability to accommodate big jets, a remodeled terminal with expanded secure area seating, a jet bridge that is being purchased, runways that stretch 7,100 feet and 6,500 feet, rental car service and free parking.
“We have an attractive package,” Chair Beth Pfingsten said.
Airport Manager Steve Sievek likened the airport’s improvements to the story line in the movie “Field of Dreams,” in which a farmer built a ball park in a corn field and it attracted baseball’s departed greats.
“If you don’t have the infrastructure you’re never going to have anything (in terms of service),” he said.
Delta Air Lines announced July 15 the Brainerd airport was on a list of 24 small market cities that may lose their service. The ai line said it was losing $14 million a year in those cities and it planned to retire its Saab fleet. Delta officials had told Sievek it would likely find a replacement carrier and the transition would be seamless.
Sievek told the board Friday Delta had applied for the Brainerd airport to receive federal Essential Air Service funds, a subsidy the airport has never received before. Those EAS funds may not be a long-term solution, Sievek said after the meeting with considerable sentiment in Congress to eliminate them.
In comments after the meeting, neither Pfingsten nor Sievek were optimistic there was much chance of the Brainerd airport retaining Delta’s air service in the long run.
“I think the chances of that are pretty slim,” Sievek said.
Pfingsten agreed but said she thought the time was right to market the airport’s availability.
Responding to questions from commissioners, Sievek said while it was possible, he didn’t think that given the airport’s passenger count a larger, mainline air carrier could be secured for Brainerd.
He said it was his understanding that while a new carrier would continue to use Delta reservations and ticketing operations, the ground handlers in Brainerd, Regional Elite Airline Services, would no longer be used. While the Brainerd airport’s passenger occupancy was listed by Delta at 53 percent, Sievek noted that in the summer months that figure approaches 85 percent.
Commission members emphasized the airport’s importance to the Brainerd area economy. Pfingsten quoted a saying that said, “The most important Main Street in any area is your longest runway.”
The current terminal remodeling project, Sievek said, was an expenditure of about $7.5 million. The funding is about 94 percent federal with under 6 percent local and a small fraction of state dollars.
Airport Commissioner Rachel Reabe Nystrom, a Crow Wing County Board commissioner, urged Sievek to keep commissioners informed when major developments surface, such as the Delta announcement. Commissioners also asked Sievek to reach out to Rep. Chip Cravaack, R-Minn., and his predecessor, former Rep. Jim Oberstar, D-Minn. for any help or advice they could give.
The next airport commission meeting was set for 9:30 a.m. Aug. 2 in the Jinx Ferrari Room in the Historic Crow Wing County Courthouse.
MIKE O’ROURKE may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5860.