Recent news stories have highlighted exciting changes happening at the Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport and we have been engaged in more discussions in the community than ever. In these discussions a number of common questions have come up, so on behalf of our Airport Commission we wanted to take some time to address some of the most common themes.
1. Why aren’t there more scheduled flights?
The times and number of flights are ultimately determined by SkyWest Airlines based the size of our market. Airlines measure markets in terms of how many passengers board a flight at a given location. To put this in perspective in 2005 more than 20,000 passengers flew out of Brainerd and there were five or more flights per day to Minneapolis. Since the Great Recession the numbers of enplanements have declined to approximately 15,000 passengers in 2012 so the number of flights has been reduced accordingly.
We frequently discuss additional flights and suggest schedule changes. However, SkyWest and their partners at Delta Airlines will make the final call on adding flights — and their decisions are largely based upon how well we are filling the planes we already have.
So in a broader sense the opportunity for additional flights is in the hands of the citizens of the Brainerd lakes area. Simply stated, the more people fly out of Brainerd the greater the likelihood SkyWest and Delta will provide additional flights and times. SkyWest has told us, however, that if we fill our current capacity they will give us more flights.
It may not always be possible to fly from Brainerd, but by checking Brainerd fares and availability and beginning trips here when possible we can demonstrate the viability of the Brainerd market. Expanded air service is dependent on all of us to utilize the service we have.
2. Why doesn’t Brainerd get a second airline?
The reason Brainerd does not have multiple carriers also is directly connected to our market size. An airline needs to make money and they make money by getting passengers on planes. The decline in the Brainerd market since the Great Recession makes us, currently, a less attractive market.
As previously mentioned, if we utilize the service and increase enplanements we enhance the viability of the Brainerd market for SkyWest and for a possible second carrier.
3. Why aren’t there more charter flights to various locations?
Great question. Having additional direct charter options would be great but the bottom line here is also market performance for the airline. If charters continue to do well and we work closely with the charter services additional opportunities will likely become available.
The Sun Country charters to Laughlin, Nev., have been very successful and we are actively discussing additional locations with Sun Country management.
4. When will the airport have a control tower?
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) makes the determination where and when towers are needed based upon the total amount of aircraft traffic and traffic levels at Brainerd currently do not meet the FAA’s guidelines. The lack of a tower, however, does not mean Brainerd airspace is uncontrolled. FAA Air Traffic Control closely monitors all aircraft on instrument flight plans and when weather conditions limit visibility only one aircraft at a time is allowed into the Brainerd airspace. In many ways an airport like Brainerd is even safer than a busy tower-controlled field where multiple aircraft may simultaneously be inside the airspace on poor weather days.
However, as Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport grows we will be working closely with the FAA as to when a tower would be needed. All it takes, again, is growth.
5. Why does the airport need a Brainerd city water connection?
The airport has recently completed an expansion and renovation. As a condition for obtaining the permits for this expansion the state fire marshal required the airport to enhance the fire control sprinkler system by 2016.
To satisfy this requirement the airport could connect to city water (assuming the city of Brainerd extends the water connection to the airport) or install a large stand-alone well, pump and tank that could supply the sprinklers with water in case of a fire. One of these systems must be in place by 2016; both options are expensive and each has advantages. The stand-alone pump and tank system may be less expensive initially, but it would only serve a single purpose — serving as backup for the airport terminal sprinkler system. A city sewer and water extension would be more expensive, but if the airport pursues expanded commercial industrial development city water and sewer would be essential.
We need to carefully review each option and at this time no decisions have been made. Funding from state and/or federal sources is a critical component in the decision-making and it should be noted that if the bill passes as originally written in the Senate no direct local funding would be required for the sewer and water linkage from the city to the airport.
Thank you to all in the community who have brought us questions and ideas and thank you for supporting our Airport. If you have any other questions or suggestions please feel free to contact your airport commissioners or manager Jeff Wig.
This column was prepared by Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport Board Chair Andy Larson and Airport Manager Jeff Wig.