When Rhinelander-Oneida County Airport commission chairman Robert Heck heard that some people are choosing to fly out of other airports because of an impression that Rhinelander has a lot of delays and cancellations he decided to take a close look at the numbers.
"Every once in a while, we get these people who come along and give out comments," Heck said. "They rarely give them to me, which is always interesting because I have the facts and can shoot it down and accept or reject whatever. But they kind of go around sometimes and I want to put an end to this because there have been some comments from some certain people who are decent people, I know them well."
After checking the numbers, Heck learned there were 1,540 flights scheduled into or out of the Rhinelander airport over the last 20 months and a total of 37 cancellations.
"Two were canceled because of mechanical issues and 35 because of weather, which we absolutely have no control over," Heck said. "This equals out to 1.6 percent of the flights being canceled."
Airport director Joe Brauer said delays, which Delta airlines tracks, are also low.
"On-time performance for all four flights average 91 percent, making delays only 9 percent. This is an ongoing performance rating that is taken into account since the beginning service at Rhinelander in 2012," he said.
According to Brauer, flights are considered on time if they land within 15 minutes of their scheduled arrival time. Anything after that is considered a delayed flight.
"A lot of times they will allow an hour and 10 minutes or an hour and 17 minutes to go from here to Minneapolis or back the other way," Brauer said. "Well, the flight actually takes about 25 minutes, so they have a lot of buffer in their schedule just to make sure that they are not blowing connections for our customers."
Brauer said the planes that fly into and out of Rhinelander fly into Minneapolis from all over the Midwest and as far away as the Dakotas. Weather delays can occur before the planes even reach Minneapolis, causing a ripple effect here.
"The plane could get socked in at say Des Moines, Iowa and couldn't make it to Minneapolis, this (cancels) two trips for us in the afternoon, one coming in and one going out," he explained.
Heck said he flies out of the Rhinelander airport quite frequently and the last time he experienced a delay it was due to weather conditions at his destination airport.
"We got to the end of the taxiway and were about to turn onto the runway when they shut down the engines," he said. "I think, now what? The pilot comes on and says right now Minneapolis is having severe weather and they feel that it will be about 20 minutes."
After 20 minutes, the plane took off and he still made his connection at the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport.
Brauer said shutting down the engines, rather than have planes fly to the destination and circle over that airport, is a change the airlines instituted about 20 years ago as a fuel-saving measure.
"They're not flying through the sky burning up a lot of fuel and then they get to the point where they can't land there anyway and have to go to an alternate airport or go back to the original airport they left from," Brauer said. "It's more cost effective for everybody."
For Heck, making sure the public has accurate information about the airport's efficiency is important. One person might experience a flight delay, assume there are a lot of these occurrences and start sharing false information with friends. This leads to more sharing of misinformation when, according to Heck, the airport is actually performing well.
In fact, Heck noted the airport has seen an increase in enplanements of 1,833 people in 2017 because of the cancellation of Delta service to Iron Mountain, Mich.
"It's really a neat deal for Rhinelander now because it flies into Rhinelander and out of Rhinelander to and from Minneapolis, and we in Rhinelander get all the seats," Heck said. "That is a big fat plus for us that has really been working out. The planes hold 50 passengers, so we're getting a good result. The airport is doing rather nicely right now."
"I feel very good about our performance and how things are going," he added. "Joe and I and the whole commission are extremely pleased with Delta's performance. Just having Delta is such a major plus for this airport."
Jamie Taylor may be reached via email at email@example.com.
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