Improved Sawyer traffic totals a positive for area

Marquette County officials reported this past week the number of passengers flying into and out of Sawyer International Airport has continued its skyward trend over the past several months to reach an increase of 10.3 percent for 2013.

We think this is a great development. With Sawyer facing continued challenges over the past few years, and into the future, news of this type of improvement is certainly welcomed.

Of the Upper Peninsula’s six airports, Sawyer currently has a 40 percent market share of the region’s passenger travel. County officials said negotiations continue with American Airlines and Delta Airlines to position the airport favorably for future growth.

In 2013, both airlines added flights to the Sawyer schedule which helped boost passenger numbers. According to statistics compiled by the Michigan Department of Transportation, total passenger counts at Sawyer have been up over 2012 for every month since May.

“If we can continue this trend and maintain our load factors, we are optimistic that we will be in a position to attract additional service,” Sawyer International Airport manager Duane DuRay said in a news release.

Since 2000, total passengers at Sawyer gradually rose from 88,791 to a peak of 133,681 in 2007 before falling four out of five years to hit 76,001 in 2012. According to the MDOT statistics, a total of 84,264 passengers were counted at Sawyer during 2013.

Several factors influence declines or gains in passenger numbers ranging from airline restructuring, fuel prices and the economy to airport subsidies, schedules, destinations and ticket prices.

Marquette County officials said based on a recent air fare study, fares at Sawyer are “extremely attractive, encouraging passengers to use their local air service rather than travel to nearby airports.”

This is also good news. Ticket prices and traveling to other airports to fly for cheaper rates has long been an issue at Sawyer.

Sawyer is the only Upper Peninsula airport to not receive a federal subsidy, because it is serviced by two air carriers -American Airlines and Delta Air Lines. If one of the carriers were to stop providing air service to Sawyer, a government subsidy would not be available because of a cutoff date to add airports, which was set previously in federal law.

Negotiations are ongoing to try to make improvements in Sawyer’s flight schedules and destinations offerings. Meanwhile, a stabilization fund which has been used for Sawyer operations will soon be depleted and new sources of funding will need to be generated by county officials.

Despite these challenges, Sawyer airport has continued to improve over the past year. Like the economy, not greatly, but it has improved.

Sawyer officials said inbound and outbound cargo was down in 2013, but still represents nearly half of the cargo reported being shipped via air in the U.P. During the coming year, Sawyer officials hope to spur corporate, charter and general aviation operations with the implementation of marketing plans.

We hope the trend in increased ridership and limited seepage at Sawyer will continue not only in the coming months, but into the long-term. The airport is a vital component of Marquette County and its hopes of achieving greater things in the future.