Getting $3.3 million in pledges for the flight bank, a project aimed at attracting another air carrier ultimately to Brainerd, is getting attention from the airline industry.
Steve Sievek, Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport manager, said the joint marketing effort with the St. Cloud airport led to a good discussion in October with American Airlines regional jet American Eagle.
"They had a definite interest, but it takes time to commit to that," Sievek said.
A pitch for service also is being made to United Airlines' United Express. And Sievek said officials are looking at a couple of other carriers. The effort is aimed at providing a reason for carriers to add service to the lakes area.
Negotiations are tentatively involved for another carrier to start service first in St. Cloud and then get the service to grow to Brainerd. Sievek described it as getting a foot in the door. Travelers may first have to drive to St. Cloud, where there is free parking. Once travel demand is established from the Brainerd area, the hope is for direct air service here.
Most of the current Flight Bank pledges are from the St. Cloud area and points south, but businesses in the Brainerd area also made pledges.
The benefit may come in daily flights to Chicago -- three direct flights to O'Hare International Airport -- first seen in St. Cloud. Two main destinations stand out from the Brainerd area -- Chicago and Denver.
Sievek said there may be the potential to attract a carrier that will offer regular flights to both cities. Or they may develop package deals such as a weekend holiday shopping trip to Chicago.
Brainerd and St. Cloud are really quite different in terms of air travel. St. Cloud is able to support a large business travel contingent and the Brainerd lakes area offers more recreational options with connections to area resorts as well.
Sievek said the travel bank spiked the interest of the airlines. And while the project is not moving as fast as some may have hoped, it is moving forward. What the fare may ultimately be, Sievek said is an unknown. So is Northwest Airlines' response. And a potential strike as Mesaba Airlines pilots negotiate a contract with Northwest Airlines may affect air travel in early January. Mesaba Airlines operates as Northwest Airlink and currently serves the lakes area.
The Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport is in the first phase of its $16 million runway project.
Clear zones and setbacks for plane safety required the removal of trees along Highway 210. Much of the tree removal is completed and expectations are for few alterations in the current view to the north side of the highway. Trees and a house will be removed from the airport approach on the southern side of the highway.
This first phase of the runway project has involved site preparation, removal of a hill, dirt grading, reconstruction of a deer perimeter fence, relocation of the DNR tanker base and an expansion of an electrical vault. The runway was expected to be open in late 2004, but is now expected to be operational by fall 2005 after funding delays.
When the airport project is completed, about 450 acres will be added to the existing 1,500.
Despite Sept. 11, people appear to be feeling safer. The Brainerd airport has uniformed law enforcement on hand for every departure.
Sievek said the airline industry still has excess capacity with planes still flying at 60 to 70 percent of capacity and not yet to the 85 percent desired. There may be additional consolidation in the airline industry. The changes are expected to include fewer flights with more passengers on the planes that are taking to the air.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.