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Airport boardings keep climbing

by Tom LaVenture

Posted on 10/22/2015

Commercial airline boardings tripled in September at Jamestown Regional Airport.

There were 643 SkyWest Airlines passenger boardings last month, reported at the Jamestown Regional Airport Authority meeting Wednesday. That compares to 448 in 2014, 253 in 2013 and 171 in 2012. The year-to-date total so far is 6,101, compared to 1,940 in 2014.

Airport Manager Samuel Seafeldt said the 2014 boarding totals contrast somewhat in that they increased monthly from August through December, he said. The 2015 numbers are higher than each month of 2014, but have declined since August.

"This doesn't quite follow last year's trend, but there is a year-to-date increase as of September and we are still forecasting 8,000 boardings for the year," Seafeldt said.

October has been a good month and pre-booking reports from the airline shows daily boardings from 20 to 40 passengers, he said. With November and December as big travel months, if the airport stays above last year's boardings as it has every month this year then it will meet the 8,000-seat goal.

"We want to double that to 16,000 seats in the future as our goal," said Airport Authority Chairman Jim Boyd. "When we get to that stage then we will no longer be an Essential Air Service (with government subsidy to the airline), and it will be a whole new ballgame."

This is all consistent with the long-range plans of the airport, Boyd said. Since the opening of the new terminal in 2011, it is now attracting seating numbers not seen since 1978.

The Airport Authority declined an unsolicited lease renewal request from Dale Reimers, who has contracted to farm the 798 tillable acres surrounding the airport for the past five years. Reimers is a good tenant, Boyd said, but in the interest of transparency the Airport Authority members agreed 5-0 to open the lease for bids.

After discussion on how to proceed, the Airport Authority scheduled a special meeting on Nov. 4 to decide on the lease language and whether to pursue a sealed bid or an auction process.

In the engineer's report, Steve Aldinger announced that the first wetlands reduction project is complete with some touch-up work to be done with the fence and testing of the drainage pipes. He suggested that the dry land be leased for hay or farming with buffer area to keep dirt from washing out.

The Stutsman County Commission agreed to pay the airport's $65,000 portion of the project at its last meeting, Boyd said. The Airport Authority voted to pay contractors the remainder of the $370,000 work.

Surveying was completed on the second wetlands reduction project, Aldinger said. Work will continue to assess three interested parties who want the 35-acre wetlands mitigation contract for their lands to replace the reduced airport wetlands, he said, but could continue into mid- 2016.

"Before we can start construction we have to mitigate somewhere else and the wetland mitigation plan must be approved by the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) and U.S. Fish and Wildlife," Aldinger said. "It will be tough to get started by next summer and we can get the grant in 2016 but if we can't get the land we may be looking at 2017 for construction."

Seafeldt reported that the year-end budget was now at a negative $69,561. He attributed this to salary overrun, projects and unanticipated expenses for the new aircraft rescue firefighter vehicle.

FAA rules require a double reserve amount of dry chemicals on hand for the vehicle, he said. The old vehicle held 60 gallons, which meant 180 in reserve, while the new aircraft rescue firefighter vehicle holds 200 gallons, and requires 400 in reserve at $200 for each 5-gallon bucket.

"This is a one-time build up fee and if have to use it in an emergency we can bill to the airline," Seafeldt said. "We are doing our best to keep everything lower."

In other business the Airport Authority:

approved a 4.5 percent raise for Ben Maulding, aircraft rescue and firefighting manager

approved part-time wages for three snow removal workers from $10 to $14.50 per hour

announced a $1,000 grant from Jamestown Tourism to renovate the kiosk advertising sign in the terminal.

tlaventure@jamestownsun.com (701) 952-8455