St. Cloud keeps working to restore air service

St. Cloud keeps working to restore air service

By Kari Petrie • kpetrie@stcloudtimes.com • October 19, 2010

The city of St. Cloud has received $461,000 in pledges to attract an air carrier to St. Cloud Regional Airport, and officials remain optimistic they will get air service back.

The City Council received an update on the efforts to attract a carrier at its Monday meeting.
During the past year, the airport has faced several challenges. It started the year without a carrier, St. Cloud State University has announced plans to shut down its aviation department and the Transportation Safety Administration has said it will remove its equipment from the airport.
The airport’s 2010 budget is $760,800 and the proposed 2011 budget is $736,900. The airport is supported through hanger rent, gas sales commission, state and federal grants and property taxes. The airport has five employees, one of whom works part-time.
The city started the pledge drive this year to raise $2.2 million that would be used to buy round-trip tickets on future flights aboard an airline serving the city.

The pledges are billed as an investment: If the tickets sell out, the investment isn’t used. But if they sell the prepaid seats plus others, the investors make money.
The city has also applied for a $500,000 federal grant, which would go toward the pledge drive. The money can be used for startup costs, any losses incurred or marketing.
The city has a contract with marketing consultant Jami Bestgen, who has spoken to more than 500 area businesses to see what their travel budgets are and what they are willing to pledge to attract an air carrier. Of those, about 70 have made pledges.
Bestgen said many companies are concerned about the economy and how the federal and state elections will turn out, so they are cautious about making a pledge.

Airport Director Bill Towle said the next steps in the process are to lobby to get the federal grant, wrap up the pledge drive and meet with prospective airlines.
The city is looking at ExpressJet and Skywest. ExpressJet operates as a charter service while Skywest runs as a typical airline.
City officials would like to go to Washington, D.C, in the next month to lobby for the federal grant. The city should find out in December if it received the grant.
Towle said he remains optimistic that St. Cloud can attract a carrier, especially looking at the success Eau Claire, Wis., has had.
“We’re really going after it with everything we’ve got,” he said.

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