MidAmerica St. Louis Airport will host its 10,000th passenger of the year today, automatically qualifying the airport for an additional $1 million in federal funding.
"The use of those funds will ultimately become a major asset to the traveling public," said Jim Nations, a member of the St. Clair County Public Building Commission that oversees operations at the county-owned airport.
The 10,000th passenger will receive a gift basket from Eckert's Country Store & Farms in Belleville.
MidAmerica was never able to access the funds before today because it failed to meet the minimum passenger count to qualify. Airport officials credited their ability to qualify on the success of TransMeridian Airlines and Allegiant Air, LLC.
TransMeridian Airlines, in November, launched its service to Orlando, Fla. The company's been flying out of MidAmerica Airport at 79 percent capacity, said Colin Wheeler, TransMeridian's assistant vice president for scheduling and planning.
"We're pretty happy so far with the routes," Wheeler said. "It's been getting better and better all the time. Hopefully, the strong demand will continue."
TransMeridian this year has carried more than 7,000 people out of MidAmerica Airport. It has carried more than 8,800 passengers out of the airport since it started offering flights here last fall. Allegiant Air, which offers flights to Las Vegas, declined to release its passenger data.
"Business is good," Allegiant spokesman Tyri Squyres said. "We're real happy. There must be some love affair between Southern Illinois and Las Vegas."
Allegiant Air originally planned to offer two flights a week when it launched its service here in April. Strong demand forced the company to rethink its strategy and double the number of weekly flights it would offer from two to four.
"MidAmerica is an entity that, in the course of time, will prove the elected officials have made a good long-term decision in a short-cycle election period," Nations said.
Original projections for the airport made in 1997 projected the airport would serve 1.1 million customers by 2000. However, a pair of failed airline ventures and a general downturn in the airline industry proved that figure to be unrealistic.
Lambert-St. Louis International Airport, by comparison, recorded more than 6.7 million passengers leaving its gates in 2004. It's a number that's dramatically fallen since the airport topped out at 15.1 million departing passengers in 1999.