After the potentially devastating loss of an airline earlier this year, Pierre Regional Airport is showing signs of renewed vigor with the announcement of 23 additional flights a week.
Starting Dec. 1, Great Lakes Airlines will begin offering 55 flights a week to Denver and Minneapolis, up from the current 32 flights.
The airline will have four roundtrip flights a day to Denver through the entire week, and four roundtrip flights to Minneapolis Sunday through Friday, with three flights on Saturday.
Great Lakes stepped in to offer flights to Minneapolis after Delta Air Lines, citing reasons such as lack of profitability and retirement of its turbo prop fleet, pulled out of Pierre at the beginning of the year.
Monica Taylor-Lee, a spokeswoman for Great Lakes Airlines, said the decision to offer more flights came after a year of significant monthly growth, even if total airport enplanement rates had decreased.
The airline has seen a 200 percent enplanement increase over last year on its flights between September and October, and a 180 percent increase between January and August, she said.
“We think it’s an ‘If you built it, they will come’ thing, and we will bring the planes,” Taylor-Lee said.
The company is optimistic there is enough demand to cover the cost of running additional flights, and plus only part of those flights will be non-stop, with others landing at smaller airports such as Watertown and Huron, she said.
“We don’t need every single flight to be 100 percent full, but we need people to be on them,” Taylor-Lee said.
Mike Isaacs, manager of the Pierre Airport, said the fact that Great Lakes feels comfortable running eight flights a day is energizing news.
The majority of passengers going through the airport are business leaders, and the additional flights mean they can make more connecting flights. That convenience will make the smaller airport a more viable option, he said.
“It might be easier to fly out of Sioux Falls or drive to Minneapolis to fly to New York, but that’s eight hours out of your day,” Isaacs said.
Isaacs said for the past three months more than 1,000 passengers have used the airport a month, nearly matching the airport’s enplanements rates before Delta pulled out, he said.
Enplanement totals dropped into the 600 and 700 range during the first half of 2012, but has been above 900 since June.
So far 9,000 passengers have used the airport in 2012, with an estimated 12,000 before the year is out, Isaacs said.