The Brainerd/St. Cloud Gateway Partnership has been awarded $1 million federal air transportation grant to enhance Northwest Airline's service to Minneapolis and recruit another air carrier.
The partnership will serve the Brainerd-Crow Wing County Regional and St. Cloud airports and is a partnership between the airports, city of St. Cloud, the Brainerd Lakes Area Chambers of Commerce, St. Cloud Area Chamber of Commerce and the Initiative Foundation.
Although the communities have been successful in achieving an increased number of flights with Northwest/Mesaba, the lack of adequate local air service and the option to drive to Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport results in a high diversion rate to Minneapolis.
Minnesota has sponsored two ticket surveys since 1995 to estimate diversion rates. An estimated 65 percent of Brainerd traffic and 80 percent of St. Cloud passengers drive to the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. In 2000 there were 20,247 people getting on planes departing from Brainerd compared to 115,697 total air travelers and in St. Cloud there were 23,711 people boarding planes there compared to 237,110 travelers.
The grant proposal is unique because it represents a partnership between communities located in fast-growing regions of Minnesota that need improved and expanded air travel options, the Brainerd chamber reported.
There are multiple communitywide partners providing support who are important, including non-profits, government and for-profit businesses.
"These funds will enable the Brainerd and St. Cloud airports to encourage service and competition from a second carrier to a different hub," Congressman James L. Oberstar said in a news release. "It has the potential to lead to increased competition, lower fares and more service for residents and visitors."
The proposal matches every federal dollar to three private dollars. There are four program initiatives planned. The primary initiatives are the establishment of a Travel Bank and Carrier Recruitment Program.
The Travel Bank is a vehicle to raise community funds and guarantee a certain level of revenues to a carrier in exchange for air service. Individuals, public and private entities will make pledges of travel budget dollars to the bank. Bank debit cards are issued in exchange for contributions to the bank. Participants purchase airline tickets through their regular channels using debit cards.
For every round-trip ticket purchased through the bank, federal dollars will contribute an estimated $35-$50 of the ticket. This will reduce the ticket cost to Travel Bank participants and serve as an incentive to use the bank.
The second program initiative, carrier recruitment, will involve recruitment of a second air carrier and development of golf/air packages for the Brainerd lakes area in conjunction with wholesalers and carriers. The Travel Bank Program will be used to support guarantees for a second carrier.
Raising pledges for the Travel Bank will require a major campaign in each of the communities. The chambers are the sponsors of this project to provide information and recruit participation. The Initiative Foundation will serve as the administrative partner for the project. Only $20 million was granted to 40 communities across the nation from 179 proposals received from 47 states, seeking a total of $142.5 million.
The Brainerd Lakes Area Chambers of Commerce represents nearly 1,000 businesses and operates offices in Crosslake and Brainerd.
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