Air service is KEDA priority this year

HANCOCK — Bringing a new air carrier to the Houghton County Memorial Airport is one of the Keweenaw Economic Development Alliance’s top priorities for 2019.

Executive Director Jeff Ratcliffe went over plans for the year as well as 2018 activities in an annual report at KEDA’s monthly meeting last week.

KEDA has been communicating with Delta Airlines as well as Endeavor Airlines, the Minneapolis-based regional carrier for Delta, about providing service to and from Minneapolis.

The airport ended flights to Minneapolis in 2010 when Mesaba Airlines, a regional affiliate of Delta, pulled out of the Houghton market, citing unprofitability. The airport then entered the federal Essential Air Service program, in which airlines receive subsidies to servicing unprofitable rural markets.

SkyWest Airlines, an affiliate of United, has submitted the winning bid in every cycle since, for flights through Chicago. In the most recent cycle, it was the only carrier to submit a proposal. It is contracted to provide two flights a day until Feb. 1, 2020.

Connecting through O’Hare International Airport has been a bone of contention since for members of the business community, who have complained about inconvenience and frequent cancellations or delays.

The bid process for the next two-year contract begins this year.

“We’re trying all angles,” Ratcliffe said. “So if you know somebody, or know somebody that knows somebody, or know somebody that knows somebody that knows somebody, let’s talk. We need to find a way in.”

KEDA member Guy St. Germain urged Ratcliffe to make improving air travel out of Houghton the top priority for the year. That includes securing flights to Minneapolis as well as improving the airport, he said.

“For a tiny airport, it still should be better, and I think that’s the basis for not only recreation but for businesses up here,” he said.

KEDA will also continue projects from the previous year. It is working with the U.S. Economic Development Administration to secure funding for two new business parks in Houghton and Hancock.

The two remaining viable sites at the Houghton County Airpark have been purchased, Ratcliffe said.

“In order for our existing companies to expand and locate on (a new site), as well as attract new companies from outside, we need to have sites that are shovel-ready,” he said.