More options for passengers who fly in and out of Brainerd is the objective of a group of tourism and business representatives who met Wednesday with U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar, D-Minn.
At a minimum, the business representatives want more Mesaba flights to Minneapolis, particularly in the busy summer months. In an ideal world they would like direct flights to and from Chicago and possibly service by an additional airline.
The group met at the Brainerd Lakes Area Chambers of Commerce office in Brainerd.
The tough part is convincing airline officials there are enough potential air passengers to justify increased service.
Oberstar, a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said he had talked to Northwest Airlines, which has business ties with Mesaba Airlines, the airport's current carrier; American Airlines; and Sun Country about the possibility of expanded service to Brainerd. The main problem is the Brainerd-Crow Wing County Regional Airport averages about 53.7 passengers per day and the airlines estimate the Brainerd market would have to be able to have a total market demand for at least 130 passengers a day in order to warrant a second airline, Oberstar said.
"Unless you have 130 passengers a day on a year-round basis, they aren't going to lift a finger," he said.
In order to make the case there is sufficient demand for air travel to and from Brainerd, a study would have to be done. That could cost about $50,000.
Rob Mason, co-chair of the chamber's Airline Transportation Committee and director of sales at Madden's, said his group didn't want to back a study and then have it sit on a shelf. Somehow, he said, his panel would like to start a list or gauge the demand by individuals or businesses for increased air traffic in and out of Brainerd if more flights were available. He urged individuals or businesses to contact the chamber on this issue.
Mason cited how a Minnesota company was interested in conducting a national sales meeting at Madden's but backed out when it determined that its overall travel package (transportation and lodging) would be cheaper if the firm flew people to and lodged them in Nashville.
Bob McLean of Hunt Technologies noted the incredible increase in the number and quality of golf courses in the Brainerd lakes area in the last five years, making the area a golf destination.
Rick Skogen of Cragun's said many of Chicago's business people schedule events at Lake Geneva in Wisconsin but could just as easily come to Brainerd with improved airline service.
"We could become Chicago's playground," he said of the Chicago region that's home to about 12 million people.
In other good news, Mason reported that talks with Northwest Airlines officials indicated the airline would consider extending its summer schedule through October.
While Oberstar couldn't deliver any good news regarding the possibility of a second airline coming to Brainerd, he did report more money for airport improvements is likely for the Brainerd airport.
Oberstar said the amount of federal aid for airport improvements slated for Brainerd will go up from $500,000 to $1 million. The Little Falls airport is also likely to see increased aid, he said.
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