Jamie Taylor/river news
Workers are busy converting the former restaurant area in the Rhinelander-Oneida County Airport into a larger passenger waiting area. The project is expected to be finished ahead of the start of the additional daily flights.
1/30/2020 7:30:00 AM Delta announces extra flights out of Rhinelander airport this summer Three round trips to Minneapolis, four on Saturdays
Strong passenger volume has prompted Delta Airlines to add extra flights between Rhinelander and Minneapolis this summer, Rhinelander-Oneida County Airport Director Matt Leitner announced this week.
SkyWest Airlines, a subsidiary of Delta Airlines, added a third daily flight last summer and the response showed there is demand for three daily round trip flights between Rhinelander and the Twin Cities, Leitner told the Airport Commission this week, adding that a fourth late evening flight on Saturdays has also been added to the summer schedule.
Leitner said the "resounding success" of the extra midday flight last summer during its inaugural run showed the airline that Rhinelander can easily fill the seats on the additional flights.
The third flight will run from June 8 to Aug. 31, about 10 days more than last year, while the late evening Saturday flight will run from July 11 to Aug. 31.
"On most Saturdays, it's going to be flights all day," Leitner explained. "There won't be much of a break anywhere. This is what they call the 'full summer schedule,' so what the airline defines as the summer travel period, we have every day of that, it's not abbreviated."
Increasing the number of flights into and out of the airport has been a goal of the airport administration for many years, so seeing the success of last year's third flight rewarded by the airline with even more summer flights is exciting news, Leitner added.
"That (the fourth flight) is something we were pushing for pretty aggressively," Leitner said. "It seems that last summer was a resounding success, and we wanted to build upon that, so we have with the longer season and additional flight. And this is a time where airline capacity is so hard to come by, with the pilot shortage, they're not adding flights anywhere."
Patrick Marquart, airport commission chair, was thrilled to hear the news.
Marquart is in his second year as chair of the commission. He assumed the chairmanship at the same time Leitner was hired. For the two to be able to accomplish a goal that was set years ago means a lot, he added.
"It's more Matthew than it is me," Marquart said with a laugh. "A lot more Matthew than it is me. Bob (Heck, former commission chair) left me in a great spot."
Marquart said he was confident after last summer the extra daily flights would return.
"We pretty much figured we were going to get the third flight back again because of its performance last year. But to add that fourth flight on Saturday was definitely a bonus," he said.
Leitner noted that looking back to last spring just before the additional summer flight started there was no assurances the extra seats would be filled.
"There was always the potential that the third flight wouldn't have been as strong as it ended up being, which is to say it wouldn't be a success," he said. "But, God, it was a resounding success, and boy Delta took notice."
With the increased number of passengers coming into and out of the airport will come an increase in revenue the airport will receive from surcharges and other government fees from the federal government.
"I think, and this is just a rudimentary calculation, but I think we've added about an additional 1,700 seats this summer," Leitner said.
Lauren Sackett, Rhinelander Area Chamber of Commerce (RACC) executive director, said the additional traffic into and out of the area will help the area's tourism industry.
"Transportation connectivity is a big thing in terms of tourism," Sackett said. "Our community and the Midwest in general is very much a 'drive market.' So people are usually driving to their destination. But the more that we can connect to that flight market, that is more potential visitors that we can draw from. So I think it is a great benefit to have those additional flights coming into and out of Rhinelander each day."
She said the extra flights will also play a positive factor in economic development.
"Even in terms of the businesses that are already here, being able to connect to other areas for meetings and bring in potential clients, it's really a good sign of growth on the economic development front," Sackett said. "So I think it's very exciting that the airport is getting this addition (in flights) and we wait to see what kind of economic impact numbers we will be able to provide over the next couple of years."
Leitner said those additional seats are filled by people coming into the Rhinelander area or flying to MSP to make a connection to anywhere.
"What we've proven - and we're continuing to prove - is that the demand is here, if Delta wishes to capture it," Leitner said. "People want to fly out of Rhinelander, they don't want to go to CWA (Mosinee) or wherever. So I think it is really bolstering our case. 2019 was up 13 percent over 2018 as far as passenger enplanements. We had our best year since 2007 in 2019. So by far the best year since the Great Recession."
Rhinelander's emplanement numbers have been good even during what is traditionally considered the "offseason" for air travel, he added.
"Even now in January, February and March, better, better, better, stronger, stronger, stronger," Leitner said.
Leitner also said the expansion of the secure area is on schedule and on budget and will be finished well ahead of the extra flights starting.
"We anticipate completion by mid-March," he said. "It's about seven weeks (from now), not long. Everything is going really well."
Near the end of the project, the orientation of all of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) equipment will have to be moved into position for the new, larger layout. Leitner said this will be done in one night with TSA sending extra people, along with the contractor of the project and airport staff to make everything go as smoothly as possible after the last flight of the evening comes in.
"One flight will come in using the old area and the next one goes out using the new area," he explained.
The expanded seating area for passengers who have been through TSA screening, including restroom facilities and vending machines, will hold more than the 50- person capacity of the planes SkyWest uses.
"If, for some reason, we have two planes on the ground at once, and we've got all those folks back there, we'll have a bathroom and the airline will have a counter in there, there'll be plenty of chairs and room," Leitner said.
Leitner was quick to give the credit for the additional summer flights where it truly belongs.
"When I say that people want more flights and destinations, I'm grateful because they've been coming out en masse, which is exactly what we need them to do. To use these flights because we keep building upward and outward," he said.
Leitner agreed it has been a case where, to paraphrase the famous line from "Field of Dreams," if you add it, they will use it.
"That's a good analogy," Leitner said. "Only the voice isn't a whisper, it's getting louder."
The additional flights will be available from June 8 until August 31.
Six days a week, flights will depart from Rhinelander at 6:34 a.m., 11:35 a.m. and 3:49 p.m. and arrive at Minneapolis/St. Paul at 8:11 a.m., 12:40 p.m. and 4:59 p.m. respectively.
The Saturday flights will depart Rhinelander at 7:07 p.m. and arrive at Minneapolis/St. Paul at 8:12 p.m. and will run from July 11 to Aug. 15.
Planes will depart Minneapolis/St. Paul at 10:05 a.m., 2:27 p.m. and 10:25 p.m. daily with arrival times in Rhinelander being 11:02 a.m., 3:30 p.m. and 11:19 p.m.
The Saturday flight will depart Minneapolis/St. Paul at 5:40 p.m. and arrive at 6:37 p.m.
Leitner said tickets for the additional flights are already on sale at Delta.com.
Jamie Taylor may be reached via email at jamie@rivernews online.com.
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