Budget Rent-A-Car will not be giving out vehicle keys much longer.
John Tanner, owner, said his rental car business has been out at the Brainerd-Crow Wing County Regional Airport since 1976. But Budget will close its rental business and its airport location at the end of May.
In early days at the airport, Budget had a fleet of 50. Now the rental car business has a fleet of 15.
Tanner said the decision has been coming for two or three years and there have been a number of factors behind closing the rental portion of the business.
He said Northwest Airlines has continued to increase fees for people who want to fly out of Brainerd by adding on to their connecting ticket. He said by the time connecting fees are added on to particular flights out of Brainerd, the cost of driving, parking and getting a hotel in the Twin Cities is cheaper.
"The airport commission has been trying but really there is no improvement whatsoever," Tanner said in regard to the add-on fee to fly from Brainerd.
Add that to the insurance risk with rental cars and a summer season for peak business and Tanner said it did not make sense to continue. He said the business is not losing money but revenue has kept dropping since the mid-1990s.
National Car Rental is located next to Budget in the airport. Enterprise Rent-A-Car recently added an airport presence and is currently located in the formerly vacant counter space created for a second air carrier.
Enterprise was able to move into the space with the knowledge they would have to leave it if another air carrier was interested. Now Enterprise will move into the space vacated by Budget's departure.
Tanner said Enterprise's addition was taking a small pie and cutting it into too many pieces. But Steve Sievek, airport manager, said the airport commission is trying to get revenue for the airport and would have difficulty justifying a decision to turn away rental revenue or limiting competition.
"The main reason is there is not the rental car business that has been coming out of the airport that there has been," Tanner said.
Contributing factors were loss of flights after Sept. 11 and the loss of business travelers with the closing of Potlatch, one of Budget's bigger accounts.
Tanner said he has been talking to other rental car companies and all report a 30 to 40 percent downturn in business since Sept. 11.
"With the drop in revenue from Sept. 11, I decided if I am ever going to do it, now is the time," Tanner said. "It just gets to the point the risk isn't worth making the investment."
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