Traverse City Record-Eagle

October 11, 2012

Editorial: Airport must find long-term partner


---- — The folks at Manistee's Blacker Airport have a great idea — provide inexpensive (compared to Traverse City's Cherry Capital Airport, anyway) air service to Chicago and possibly Detroit to the residents of northwest Lower Michigan.

Given the sky-high prices being charged through Cherry Capital it looks like a no-brainer. Cherry Capital has been widely criticized, even in a national publication, for the outrageous prices being charged by its carriers. It's actually often cheaper for area residents to gas up the car and drive to airports in Grand Rapids or Flint or even Detroit — and back again — than to fly out of Cherry Capital.

And given Blacker's location, it's certainly more accessible than Cherry Capital for towns along Lake Michigan.

Blacker's problem, though, is that while it has a good idea and a good location, it can't seem to find a carrier that can do enough business to stay in the air.

Most recently Waterford Township-based Aerodynamics Inc. said it was ending its commercial flights in and out of Manistee by Oct. 16. ADI had been offering one flight with a capacity of up to 50 passengers each way daily, and was the only commercial service available at the airport, said Barry Lind, director of the Manistee airport.

ADI had been providing charter service between Manistee and Chicago's Midway airport since May 24 as the direct air carrier for Public Charters, Inc. Public Charters had stepped in after Frontier Airlines stopped flying to Manistee in late winter.

The revolving door of carriers certainly hasn't helped Blacker. People who fly for business need to know the service is going to be there now and six months from now. They need a reasonable fare and service they can depend on. But Blacker can't seem to catch a break — or a carrier who can hang in for the long haul.

Lind said the ADI pullout hurt.

"Unlike with Frontier, when Frontier gave notice, we had six months to prepare; there weren't seats sold to people and then canceled. It was an orderly departure and orderly coming back," he said. "This, because it's all happening in 10 days, is not orderly."

Public Charters says it is trying to find a replacement carrier. Lind said it could take from a week to a month to launch a new service, depending on how quickly a deal can be reached and federal approval secured.

The region needs an alternative to what Cherry Capital's carriers are charging, and that's Blacker. But it must first find a partner for the long haul.