EDITOR’S NOTE: Newsmakers 2013 profiles people, places and events that made news in the Grand Traverse region during the past year.
TRAVERSE CITY — Passenger traffic at Cherry Capital Airport is expected to rise at least 3 percent in 2013 once the final numbers are tallied, continuing a steady climb in business at the facility.
Cherry Capital Airport Director Kevin Klein said this year’s projected increase in passenger traffic follows 2012’s rise of 2.8 percent, when 362,059 took flights at the airport.
“We are getting a lot of traction on the East Coast,” Klein said. “I think it has to do a lot with the fact that Mario Batali is really promoting Cherry Capital Airport and this region as the Hamptons of Michigan. His thing is it’s easier to get to Traverse City from downtown New York than it is to drive out to the Hamptons.”
The increase comes after the airport added two new summertime destinations to Newark, New Jersey and Cleveland, Ohio. The airport regularly adds destinations in the summer and also flies to Atlanta and New York at that time.
The majority of the statistical increase in passenger numbers came from an influx of summer travelers, Klein said. He believes Traverse City’s airport is flourishing, especially compared to other Michigan airports, which are seeing a decrease in passenger traffic.
This year the airport’s runway was extended 400 feet. The extension was accompanied by the installation of new landing technology, all paid for by $4.1 million in federal grants.
The changes, which were finished by the end of October after a month-long delay caused by the federal shutdown, will allow more passengers to take off from the airport in summer heat and add additional safety during winter months.
A new air traffic control tower helped the airport handle increased traffic. The tower went into operation in April, and old, 1970s-era equipment was replaced with new technology that gave the tower better visibility.
“It’s one of the most modern towers that’s available right now,” Klein said. “It allows us expanded capability for the future.”
The Federal Aviation Administration will make more decisions in 2014 that Klein hopes will allow him to move ahead with one of two improvements.
Airport officials are deciding whether to add another 400 feet to the runway or install a new instrument landing system, which sends guiding signals to planes to aid landings.
An extended runway would enhance all the benefits of the current runway but would require rerouting Garfield Avenue.
An instrument landing system would help planes land more accurately. The airport currently has new GPS technology installed to help with landings, but most planes are not equipped to use it yet.