Selling Sawyer

MARQUETTE – The Marquette County Board unanimously approved a Michigan Department of Transportation grant Tuesday, which will provide $25,000 to the county to promote air service at Sawyer International Airport.

The Michigan Air Service Program grant will require a $2,778 local match, which will be paid for out of the airport’s marketing budget.

Sawyer Operations Manager Steve Schenden said the grant money will be used for marketing Sawyer’s air service by attracting passengers and promoting existing service with Delta and American airlines.

After posting the lowest passenger volume in more than a decade in 2012, Sawyer International Airport officials expect the number of people flying into and out of the Upper Peninsula’s largest airport to begin rebounding this year.

Since 2000, total passengers at Sawyer gradually rose from 88,791 to a peak of 133,681 in 2007 before falling four of the last five years to hit 76,001 in 2012.

Through March, passenger volumes have increased each month, from 5,181 in January to 6,110 in February to 6,342 in March. However, all three of those months are tracking behind the passenger totals for 2012.

There have been a total of 17,633 passengers at the airport through March this year, compared to 18,439 riders over the same time period last year, a decrease of 806 people.

At the U.P.’s six air service airports, including Sawyer, the 2012 passenger total was 213,808, which was down 32,157 passengers from 2011, with Sawyer’s 28,984 fewer riders accounting for 90 percent of the decline.

Several factors were said to have influenced the drop ranging from airline restructuring, fuel prices and the economy to airport subsidies, schedules, destinations and ticket prices.

In 1987, the state grant program was developed to address the loss and decline of commercial air service to many communities across the state. The following year, the first grant was implemented. Schenden said the program helped stabilize and expand commercial air service by undertaking activities aimed at promoting increased use of services available at local airports.

In January, MDOT officials notified the county there would be funds available for grants this year.

John Pepin can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206. His email address is