Regional airport soars to passenger record

HIBBING — Range Regional Airport saw a 12 percent increase in passenger traffic in 2018, the Chisholm-Hibbing Airport Authority reported Wednesday.

Shaun J. Germolus, executive director of the airport authority, said a record 16,905 paying customers passed boarded either Sun Country charter flights or SkyWest Airlines operating through Delta Connection through last year, up from 15,089 a year earlier. The figure jumps to 20,780 when counting airline employees who fly free-of-charge.

“The economy seems to be going strong on the Iron Range and people are supporting the local air service,” Germolus said.

An 8 percent rise in enplanements over the past five years kickstarted the ongoing expansion project to create 100 new parking spaces and rehabilitate the existing lot for this year. That addition is expected to bump the total number of spaces to 350.

“This will support the increase in traffic as January 2019 has already recorded an 11 percent increase over January 2018,” Germolus said. “I am looking forward to another year of positive growth in 2019 and would like to thank our airline partners, regional businesses and passengers for making the Range Regional Airport such a success.”

Last fall, the airport began the $1 million phase one of the parking lot project by installing gravel. People can park here now, but since winter has been less than cooperative, the airport must wait until the spring to complete the $1.2 million phase two of the project that involves paving those spaces.

Germolus said he is often asked to explain why the airport is experiencing an increase in passengers. Airport staff reported that the 16,905 figure is the largest in their electronic-record dating back to 1992 when they had 16,519 passengers. Staff speculated that figures could have been higher during the mining booms of the 1970s and 1980s, but those figures were not immediately available as of press time.

“It has been a combination of constructing the new terminal, a strong partnership with the airlines and our regional communities, and public awareness and education,” Germolus said.

Back in 2015, the airport embarked on a $18.1 million terminal project, which was funded by the Federal Aviation Administration, the state of Minnesota and the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board. It was a three-phase project that increased terminal space to 21,000 sq. ft. from 8,900 sq. ft. in an effort to ease the processing of passengers and luggage.

The constant demand for local travel has continuously contributed to rising passenger figures.

SkyWest has “an almost perfect on-time record” in offering 12 flights per week on 50-seat CRJ-200 Canadair Regional Jet from Hibbing to Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, Germolus said. The airline ended last year with 15,692 paying customers, up 13.51 percent from the previous year.

Also, Sun Country’s $350 round-trip flights to the Riverside Resort and Casino in Laughlin, Nev., remain a popular package, adding 1,213 passengers to the mix last year. The Riverside Resort and Casino provides direct charter flights utilizing a 162-seat, Boeing 737-800 from the Range Regional Airport to Laughlin, Nev.

The Airport Authority has been discussing options with SkyWest and Sun Country to add destinations.

“It’s all based on the support of communities to support local air service,” Germolus said. “If we generate the demand, then we can put in different flights and destinations.”


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