The Rhinelander-Oneida County Airport is about to close the books on what has proven to be a very successful 2019, airport director Matt Leitner told the airport commission at the group's Dec. 20 meeting.
"We're expecting our best year since 2007," Leitner announced.
In October alone, the parking lot revenue was up 33 percent, Leitner told the commissioners. The fuel revenue was up 24 percent for the year and 10 percent for the month, he added.
"A lot of that is at the retail level and not just the airline," Leitner added.
He said enplanements - people boarding planes leaving the airport - were down in November, "but you can chalk that up to Thanksgiving being late."
"Based on advanced bookings for December through Skywest, we're up quite a bit over last year," Leitner said. "So it's going to be a really strong finish."
Leitner said the only downside to the good news is a shortage of staff at the car rental agencies for people coming in on the last flight of the day.
"They're doing everything pursuant to their lease agreement, but what I'm trying to convey is there is so much more opportunity that maybe you guys (the rental car companies) are missing," Leitner said. "Enplanements are up double digits, parking lot revenue is up double digits, everything is going gangbusters. You have to have somebody here selling the service because everybody wants it. So where are you?"
Leitner also said he did a study comparing the fares from Rhinelander to Phoenix via Minneapolis versus going through Central Wisconsin Airport (CWA) in Mosinee.
"We were much cheaper than CWA," Leitner said. "We were cheaper than Detroit. The reaction was, if I go to Detroit, I can get a ticket for $117. We looked at everything, we looked at Spirit, we looked at Allegiant, Northwest, all the low cost carriers, and we were seeing that was patently false. You could drive 12 hours to Detroit and pay more to fly versus flying out of here."
One commissioner said he was told by someone in Eagle River that they could drive to the Ironwood airport, park their car their for two months.
"We've actually made a little foray into marketing in Ironwood," Leitner said. "My response to that is it's single engine service without a bathroom, it's not branded, so if you are connecting on United or whatever, you're going to have to get off the plane, grab your bags and schlep them through the terminal, check back in, etc. etc."
"You park your car in Ironwood for two months in the winter, you won't be able to find it when you get back," added commission chair Pat Marquart.
Leitner said the Rhinelander airport's offering of branded service with frequent flyer miles is proving to be attractive to business travelers.
"And looking at the license plate data, we get all kinds of traffic from Michigan," Leitner added.
In a phone interview last Friday, Leitner added that the increase in revenue is due in large part to the increase in the number of enplanements, with a large portion of that increase coming from the addition of a third round trip flight between Rhinelander and Minneapolis during the summer months.
"That was part of it," Leitner said. "Our fuel flowage was up 60,000 gallons over last year, and that accounts for a significant bump in revenue as well. Parking fees were way up and you could probably ascribe that to the third flight. But ridership in general is up, some months have been down, but most have been up quite a bit."
In regard to the fuel flowage, Leitner said that isn't just the commercial airliners making up all of the increase, but also small private planes and corporate jets.
"UPS, FedEx, it's everything," he said. "It's all encompassing."
According to Leitner, the final figures for December should be finalized by the second week of 2020.
Jamie Taylor may be reached at jamie@rivernews online.com.
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