TRAVERSE CITY — This year’s brutal winter caused a noticeable drop in airline flights and passenger counts at Cherry Capital Airport.
New statistics show total airline takeoffs and landings dropped 16 percent in January and another 9 percent in February compared to 2013 numbers for the same months. The statistics from the Northwestern Regional Airport Commission also show total passenger counts were down 9 percent in January and 5 percent in February compared to the year prior.
Airport Director Kevin Klein said the lower numbers are largely attributable to a single cause: old man winter.
“The weather affected us for canceled flights and it also hit Grand Rapids,” Klein said. “They had more canceled flights than we did in January. In January it was all weather-related with 100-plus flights canceled.”
American Eagle’s January flight totals dropped from 122 in 2013 to 94 this year, representing a 23 percent decline. United Express flights dropped from 124 to 90 — a 27 percent drop —and Delta saw a 7 percent decline in flights from January 2013 to this year. Total passenger movements, known as enplaning and deplaning, dropped from 19,118 in January 2013 to 17,348 this January.
The statistics correspond with reports from national airline executives about canceled flights and financial losses for the aviation industry in 2014. The Wall Street Journal reported in March the four largest U.S. airlines canceled 74,500 flights in January and February. The newspaper said Delta alone rolled up a pretax loss of $55 million.
National Weather Service Meteorologist Dave Lawrence said this year’s winter in northern Michigan was one of the harshest ever recorded. Traverse City saw 49.9 inches of snow in January, basically double the historical average snowfall for the month. Temperatures were 6.2 degrees below the historic average.
“Statistically, that is very significant,” Lawrence said.
The February snowfall total of 19 inches was closer to normal, but temperatures were 8.8 degrees colder than average. The winter is one for the record books, Lawrence said.
“Depending on where you were in northern Michigan, it is anywhere between number one to number eight as the coldest winter,” Lawrence said. “It’s one of the winters that people will say, ‘I remember back when.’”
Klein said Cherry Capital had a strong spring break and he expects March numbers to break even. He also expects 2014 to be a strong year overall for the airport.