Iron Range, Minn. Airports Want to Add Flights

Chisholm-Hibbing Airport officials want Northwest Airlines to increase the number of daily flights leaving the airport, but Northwest says the numbers don't warrant more.

More than double the 2004 total of 9,433 passengers would fly out of the airport if Northwest would increase its Mesaba Airlines daily flight service from two flights to three or four, airport officials said.

"We're overbooked on every flight out of here," Dave Danielson, Chisholm-Hibbing Airport director, said Tuesday at a meeting of Iron Range airport officials and community leaders at the airport. "You couldn't get a flight out of here if you had a million dollars."

Chisholm-Hibbing Airport officials say they're concerned about the airport's future, flight availability and serving the transportation needs of an aging population on the Iron Range.

If Northwest were to increase flight service, more than 20,000 passengers would use the service each year, Danielson said.

However, Northwest Airlines officials say that economics don't make it feasible to add flights.

"At this point we are not seeing the demand that would warrant additional frequency," said Kurt Ebenhoch, a Northwest spokesman. "We very much appreciate the community's concern about additional service and will continue to monitor the market. But before that, we would need to realize that the two trips that we now make are successful."

Northwest receives an annual federal Essential Air Service subsidy of $1.2 million to operate the two existing Hibbing flights, Danielson said.

Saab 340 turboprop airplanes that serve Hibbing and International Falls carry 30 passengers, he said. In 2003, 9,291 passengers (enplanements) flew out of Hibbing; 7,656 in 2002; 9,399 in 2001; and 12,484 in 2000, according to airport statistics. Enplanements were 17,053 in 1990 and 34,307 in 1980.

During some of the heaviest years of traffic, the airport offered five daily flights from different carriers.

To help promote Chisholm-Hibbing air service, a $1 million federal grant will be sought.

If approved, the grant could be used for marketing, transporting passengers to the airport, publication of a joint schedule with the Duluth International Airport, or a joint effort to help return service to Grand Rapids.

Airport officials say they want to work cooperatively with Northwest to increase flights.

"The demand is there," said Mark Hoyne, Grand Rapids Itasca County Airport manager. "Just between our two markets, there's enough passengers to fill multiple flights per day."

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