The first month of SkyWest Airlines operating as United Express flying 13 flights per week from Pierre to Denver has gone well, City Commissioner Jamie Huizenga told other city leaders Tuesday.
The 804 "enplanements," or passenger boardings at Pierre in April were "the highest since 2014," Huizenga said in remarks at the close of the Commission's weekly meeting on Tuesday, May 7. And that's even though SkyWest's first day of its full flight schedule wasn't until April 4, he said.
The first flight of SkyWest landed in Pierre on April 3 for ribbon-cutting and hoopla.
In numbers from Mike Isaacs, manager of the Pierre Regional Airport, April boardings with Great Lakes Airlines flying were 715 in 2014, 616 in 2015, 288 in 2016 when Great Lakes had much trouble finding pilots. Under Aerodynamics Inc, April boardings were 796 in 2017 and as California Pacific Airlines was buying ADI, 780 in April 2018.
The early numbers show that people are coming back to use Pierre's airport again, after several years of difficulties with other airlines that led many to drive to Sioux Falls or Rapid City to catch flights, Huizenga and other city leaders have said.
By late April, SkyWest/United had adjusted its schedule, moving the morning flight's departure from about 10 a.m. to about 7 a.m., making it much more convenient for Pierre flyers to make connections in Denver, Pierre city leaders say.
SkyWest's close partnership with United Airlines means convenience and reliability for passengers making connections from Denver to other destinations, he says.
"People have had a chance to book flights and we are really moving forward," Huizenga said. "We will easily meet our 10,000 enplanements number we need for funding."
Federal transportation department regulations include $1 million in funding for small airport which maintain at least 10,000 passenger boardings per year. Special waivers were needed for the years 2014-2016 as numbers fell below 10,000 in Pierre.
April passenger numbers are never the highest of the year; for Pierre that's in the autumn.
The hunting season in the fall is when the passenger numbers are expected to increase a lot, and SkyWest's jets will handle the dogs and guns that hunters bring along, Huizenga said.
More people are booking flights "every day," Huizenga said. "United/SkyWest, they are doing a great job and things are rolling at the airport."