Aug. 01--Ever since signing on with American Airlines' American Eagle service, the Garden City Regional Airport has seen more passengers -- some of them happier passengers -- and more money brought into the area.
"Since American Eagle started in April of 2012, our enplanement numbers have dramatically increased and every year it seems that we have broken records," Rachelle Powell, director of aviation at the airport, said. "For 2014 we are on track to break last year's enplanement records."
In 2013, enplanement numbers from January to June totaled 11,093 passengers, and this year, enplanement from January to June was 13,267. There were 23,274 total passengers in 2013, and Powell said if numbers remain steady, this year's total will be near 26,500 passengers.
Previously, the airport featured Great Lakes and its Beech 1900 turboprop aircraft, which held 19 passengers. American Eagle offers service aboard 50-passenger Embraer 145 jets. The American Eagle aircraft feature many amenities found on bigger American Airlines jetliners, including overhead storage for carry-on bags, in-flight service and reclining seats.
A smiling Arch Frink of Cimarron made his way down the ramp Friday afternoon at the local airport, and said he preferred the local flight to those on smaller planes out of Dodge City.
Powell often hears such comments.
"We get a lot more positive feedback than we have in the past," she said, referring to the new planes, service and affordability.
The increase in passenger numbers also indicates the community is behind the local airport and what it has to offer.
"It shows us that the support is there, and we can pursue additional service options," Powell said.
With the growing number of passengers, planes are at 80 percent capacity, which could lead to more changes.
"We are working with the airline to expand service or get a larger aircraft to eliminate that close-to-capacity issue," Powell said.
In anticipation of more passengers, the local airport expanded its security room prior to 2012. More recently, the parking lot was expanded, and the airport bathrooms are in line to have more stalls added.
Local flights depart to Dallas-Fort Worth, and although there are more passengers, Powell said other destinations aren't feasible.
The decision to settle on round-trip service to and from DallasFort worth wasn't made randomly, and came about after air service studies were conducted.
"Dallas has been a top destination in those studies," Powell said. "Plus, (there is) all the connectivity down in Dallas."
Elizabeth George was waiting for her boyfriend to arrive Friday.
George says her boyfriend, Marcus Dimando, is from San Antonio, and decided to fly from Dallas to Garden City to visit her.
"It was closer because we live in Ulysses," she said.
Copyright 2014 - The Garden City Telegram, Kan.