Northwest Agrees to Grant Partnership with Aberdeen, South Dakota Airport

A handful of Aberdeen officials came away from a Thursday meeting with Northwest Airlines feeling good about future possibilities at the airport. However, those feelings were mellowed slightly by news of cuts in Northwest's fleet of airplanes.

"I thought it went pretty darn well," said airport board member Steve Kaiser. "We got at least a verbal commitment to partner with us in our grant application."

The group traveled to the Northwest headquarters in Minneapolis hoping to convince airline officials to partner with the city in applying for about $500,000 in federal small community air service development grant funds.

Buying seats: Aberdeen officials say that mission was accomplished and should improve the city's chances of getting the grant funds. Grant applications are due in early April.

The city unsuccessfully applied for the same grant last year. The city would use the money to persuade Northwest to offer jet service to Aberdeen by offering to buy any empty seats on the airline's jets making Hub City flights.

Kaiser said the Aberdeen group met for about 90 minutes with Grant Whitney, Northwest manager of North American market planning, and Ranjan Goswami , senior analyst of airlink planning.

The hope is that with the grant in place, the city can entice Northwest to bring at least partial jet service to Aberdeen Regional Airport.

Currently the Hub City is served by Northwest regional partner Mesaba Airlines, which flies Northwest's prop-driven Saab 340s.

The regional jets Northwest operates are bigger - 50 seats versus the Saab's 34 - and faster.

First flight possibilities: Kaiser said there were no promises made about the jet service, but airline representatives were receptive to the idea.

Airport officials have said they would like to see jet service for the first outbound flight of the day since that flight has proven to be one of the most popular and is often overbooked.

Mayor Mike Levsen was an important member of the group, said Kaiser, as he promoted Aberdeen, pointing out major civic improvements that reflect a healthy market.

Also involved in the meeting were city Transportation Director Dave Osborn, airport board chairman Chuck Bensen, Jim Barringer of Aberdeen Development Corp. and a representative of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. A transportation director from 3M Corp., which has a plant in Aberdeen, attended the meeting by teleconference, Kaiser said.

"It was a very good discussion," Kaiser said. "We made our presentation well."

Cutting fleet: Kaiser also said the group was alerted of possible service changes that were "not all positive."

Whitney and Goswami said Northwest is looking to cut down its fleet, which means fewer planes to go around.

It remains unclear whether Aberdeen would be affected by cuts in the airline's 400-plus aircraft fleet.

But Kaiser said overall comments from airline officials were mostly positive.

"We outlined our plans and made our case," Kaiser said, adding that the airline officials were supportive of the grant application. "And if nothing else, we may not move backward as soon."

Levsen said he was pleased with the meeting, and hopeful that the airline will support the grant and the city's desire to improve air service.

"There was some good discussion about our federal grant application," Levsen said. "We talked about how good this relationship has been for both of us, and they want us to send them our grant application proposal."

Levsen said it was good to see who the city deals with directly at Northwest, and he got a good idea of what the airline looks at in regards to air service in Aberdeen.