EAU CLAIRE, WI-- With a recently received Small Community Air Service Development grant from the Department of Transportation, Chippewa Valley Regional Airport (EAU) here is one step closer to attracting a
second carrier. Airport manager, Jerome Thiele, C.M., says the goal is access to Milwaukee, a small hub some 240 miles southeast of this northwestern Wisconsin region of nearly 200,000. "We need to have access to another hub," says Thiele.
EAU is currently served by Northwest Airlink, operated by Mesaba Airlines. Flights on Saab 800s carry passengers to and from Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport, some 70 miles west. According to Thiele, nearly 75 percent of Northwestern Wisconsin residents travel out of MSP as opposed to EAU, which is tremendous passenger leakage.
In 2004, EAU saw nearly 25,000 passengers pass through its doors, an increase of some 19 percent over 2003, says Thiele. He expects this number will continue to climb once the airport is able to offer service to another hub, such as General Mitchell International (MKE) in Milwaukee. Airport studies have indicated that a new airline could see some 7,000 passengers in the first year and 10,000 in the second. Thiele adds that this could be both new passengers, as well as those that were using the Mesaba service previously.
The airport submitted a proposal in 2004 for a Small Community Air Service Development grant, a U.S. Department of Transportation program. The proposal asked for $500,000 to use as a revenue guarantee to attract Midwest Airlines. If successful in securing the airline, the service would likely be provided by Skyway Airlines, a subsidiary of the Milwaukee-based carrier. In addition, the three counties that own and govern EAU would contribute $100,000, as well as $65,000 joint-airport marketing funds to help ensure the carrier?s success in this market for one year.
In developing the proposal for the grant, Eau Claire worked with The Boyd Group. President of the Denver-based consulting firm Michael Boyd says the application was successful because "it offers solutions." Not only does it offer EAU the opportunity to improve air service, but also takes pressure off roadways when travelers, looking for better fares, drive to other, larger airports ? an attractive component to DOT. "It solves the challenge of getting Eau Claire to another hub ... and it's also a reasonable way to get to Chicago," Boyd adds.
In its proposal, the airport states that service to Milwaukee via Midwest Airlines will offer travelers an easy trip to another hub, as well as the ability to continue through the Chicago airports. A newly opened Amtrak rail station provides service from Milwaukee to downtown Chicago and Northern Illinois suburbs. Thiele says the intermodality of the airport's proposal played a tremendous role in receiving the grant. "Our proposal is the only one with a rail connection," he says.
While important to offer incentives to attract new carriers, Thiele is mindful of the existing carrier. "Mesaba is aware that we're looking for additional air service and we think it will be a win-win situation for the airport. We'll have new destinations and possibly a new level of service."
The airport board is offering a waiver of landing fees to any carrier at EAU that adds new service.
In addition to service from Mesaba, Eau Claire has been successful in attracting charter carriers, including Funjet, Sun Country,
and Casino Express to serve the Chippewa Valley, and Thiele expects more flights will be added in the coming years. The airport assists with marketing by holding open houses to promote the locations these charter operators serve, including Laughlin, Las Vegas, and Elko, Nevada.
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