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November 19, 2012

New carrier restores flights between Manistee, Chicago

MANISTEE — Limited flights resumed between Manistee and Chicago.

Barry Lind, Manistee County Blacker Airport director, said a new carrier recently launched flights after almost a month of no service between the two cities.

Previous operator Aerodynamics Incorporated stopped flying on short notice as of Oct. 16. That left the airport and Public Charters, which handles reservations, scrambling for a replacement.

Lind said the new carrier, Corporate Flight Management of Smyrna, Tenn., was selected in part because it was able to begin providing service faster than others in contention.

“Ultimately, I think what moved the ball over into their court was their ability to get started very quickly,” Lind said. “We felt that the longer we were without service, the more permanent damage was going to be done to the market.

“It was important for us to get restarted quickly, and another option we were looking at wasn’t going to be able to get started until January and that really took them out of the running.”

Officials also liked that CFM has a relatively large fleet of the right-size aircraft. Aerodynamics Incorporated flew a 50-seat regional jet “that was always bigger than necessary” and larger than originally intended, Lind said. CFM currently uses a 19-seat prop aircraft, but has larger 30-seat versions that will be used during the summer and at other times when customer load is higher.

“We can grow with them and have the right aircraft in there seasonally,” said Jim Gallagher, president of Public Charters. “They’re a little bit larger entity with more aircraft” than Aerodynamics Incorporated.

Flights are operating on a reduced Thursday, Friday, Sunday and Monday schedule instead of the previous seven-day offering. That was designed to meet the needs of leisure as well as business travelers, Lind said.

“CFM is working on obtaining FAA approval for more frequency, but that is a process they need to go through,” he added.

Meanwhile, Aerodynamics Incorporated’s plane remains on the ground in Manistee, Lind said, kept there by a restraining order obtained by the Manistee airport.

“The idea was that the court order would be motivation for them to work with the airport to find a replacement,” Lind said. “It ended up not necessarily working that way. They weren’t really part of that process.”

Lind said airport officials now are more focused on the future than taking further legal action against the former carrier for the abrupt interruption in the airport’s only scheduled air service.

Gallagher said it’s a relief to have flights in and out of Manistee again.

“We’re actually happy to be back to a daily grind,” he said. “We’ve actually exceeded some early expectations of not only repeat customers, but also new customers.

“We’re very excited to be able to replace the air service so quickly.”

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