Range Regional Airport May See Drop in Air Service

By KBJR News 1

July 25, 2011 Updated Jul 25, 2011 at 8:03 PM CDT

HIBBING, MN (Northland's NewsCenter)---Delta Airlines says its looking to drop 24 flights across the Midwest and federal grants that keep those flights airborne may be also be cut.

Hibbing may soon see a drop in air service from three flights a day to two flights a day, seven days a week.

Discussions in the House of Representatives may lead to a drop in funding of the Essential Air Service, a program that ensures rural communities like the Iron Range get air traffic.

Senator Al Franken is fighting to continue federal funding for the E.A.S.

"I am going to be trying to persuade Delta and trying to make sure with the essential air service program that we have the funding to make sure as much traffic can go up to Hibbing as possible," Franken said.

The Range Regional Airport's current E.A.S contract expires in October.

Between now and then the D.O.T will re–bid air service routes to Hibbing.

"We'd probably have get some type of consultant to help us locate a carrier and to entice a carrier," Barrett Ziemer, Assistant Director of the Range Regional Airport said. "And really put together a package to sell to a carrier that we have a market that will be able to provide service here."

Finding another carrier is not something the Executive Director of the Range Regional Airport sees happening in the near future.

"Right now we are on the growth list for Delta Airlines," Shaun Germolus said. "We are up 25 percent from 2009 to 2010. We are up about three or four percent this year from last year. I expect us to continue on that growth rate."

Concerns have been raised that without funding, it may be difficult to retain business and attract economic development in the rural communities on the Iron Range.

But those who use the airport say its convenience factor will keep them coming back.

"Its saving us two days going down to the airport and two days taking them back," Karen Wetzel, an Iron Range resident picking up family from the airport said. "So its' very convenient. It's a little more money, but it's the cost to drive your car down and stay in a motel, so we figured this is the way to go."

The Range Regional airport plans to sign another contract with the U.S Department of Transportation which will guarantee service to Hibbing for another two years.

Other cities in danger of losing flights include Bemidji, Brainerd and International Falls.

Germolus says he's been working closely with International Falls Airport authority to develop a plan that may join air service routes.

Posted to the web: Jennifer Walch