K.I. SAWYER - With airport passenger counts rising on a pace to surpass last year's total, officials at Sawyer International Airport are encouraged by a recent agreement affecting American Airlines service to five airports across the state, including Sawyer.
US Airways and American Airlines have agreed to continue flight service to six airports in Michigan, including Sawyer for at least five years. Other airports are in Kalamazoo, Detroit, Flint, Grand Rapids and Traverse City.
The agreement is in response to legal action Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette took in September to address concerns that decreased competition would have negative impacts on airports in Michigan, including the potential for reduced airline service to several smaller airports. All six of the airports are serviced by American.
An American Airlines jet is shown at Sawyer International Airport. Under a recent agreement, US Airways and American Airlines have agreed to continue to provide service to six Michigan airports, including Sawyer for at least the next five years. Meanwhile, total passenger numbers at the airport are on a pace to surpass last year’s total. (Journal photo by Adelle Whitefoot)
"From the start, protecting Michigan residents' access to reliable, competitive air transportation has been my priority, and this agreement with American Airlines and U.S. Airways accomplishes that goal. This settlement preserves free-market competition, protects the jobs associated with that service, and retains key airline routes in Michigan," Schuette said in a news release. "I am pleased our negotiations resulted in a commitment to maintain daily flight service for Michigan families flying in-and-out of Michigan airports, a service especially important to our members of the military who depend upon reliable flights."
Sawyer officials said they are very pleased with the decision and the planned merger of the two airlines.
"We feel comfortable with the outcome and look forward to the new possibilities with the merger," Sawyer International Airport Manager Duane DuRay said. "This partnership should make the American Airlines connection more valuable to our traveling public by opening new destinations and opportunities."
American currently has departing flights at 7:55 a.m. Sundays through Fridays and at 1:35 p.m. daily to Chicago, with daily arrivals at 1:05 p.m., and at 9 p.m. Saturdays. The airport is also serviced by Delta Airlines.
Sawyer total passenger counts are ahead of last year and are on a pace to surpass last year's total of 76,001. Total passenger counts for the entire Upper Peninsula are also trending to surpass last year's total of 213,308.
"We have seen an increase in passenger boardings and we are hopeful the trend will continue," DuRay said.
After marking the lowest passenger volume in more than a decade in 2012, Sawyer International Airport officials said in March they expected the number of people flying into and out of the U.P.'s largest airport to begin rebounding this year.
Since 2000, total passengers at Sawyer gradually rose from 88,791 to a peak of 133,681 in 2007 before falling four of the last five years to hit 76,001 in 2012.
At the U.P.'s six air service airports, including Sawyer, the 2012 passenger total of 213,808 was down 32,157 passengers from 2011, with Sawyer's 28,984 fewer riders accounting for 90 percent of the decline.
Several factors were said to have influenced the drop, ranging from airline restructuring, fuel prices and the economy to airport subsidies, schedules, destinations and ticket prices.
In March, Delta Air Lines added a third daily departure to Detroit and American Airlines added its afternoon departure in June, along with the two Saturday flights.
Total passenger counts at Sawyer have been up over last year every month this year since April. The total passengers reached 71,411 at Sawyer through October. That figure is up by 6,247 over the same time frame last year.
Through October, Sawyer is averaging 625 more passengers each month this year over last year.
The top three travel months were June with 7,525 total passengers, July with 7,850 and August had the most with a total of 9,949.
At the other U.P. airports, ridership has varied this year, according to Michigan Department of Transportation statistics.
The Houghton County Memorial Airport in Houghton had 39,813 riders through September, compared to 39,547 last year. The Delta County Airport in Escanaba posted 23,648 passengers through October, up from 20,984 last year. The Gogebic-Iron County Airport in Ironwood had decreased ridership, with 4,161 riders through October compared to 4,245 last year. At the Chippewa County International Airport in Sault Ste. Marie, there were 35,932 passengers through October, up from 32,749 in 2012 and at Ford Airport in Kingsford, a total of 13,394 passengers were logged through September, up from 12,635 last year.
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