Rhinelander/Oneida County Airport administrators have put in a request to the Department of Transportation (DOT) to reopen the bid process to bring in another airline carrier. Currently Frontier Airlines has been servicing the airport, and revenues have taken a nose-dive.
“We are seeing a decline in people flying from our airport because Frontier doesn’t have many domestic connecting markets and they don’t have an international presence,” said Joe Brauer, Rhinelander/Oneida County Airport director. “Right now they only service Washington D.C., Orlando, Fla., Denver, Colo., Milwaukee and Rhinelander. Many of our customers are finding it more convenient to fly out of alternate airports such as Central Wisconsin, Green Bay and Appleton because they offer flights on mainline airlines that are more convenient for travelers.”
Numbers bare out the fact that business is dropping off at the airport. Last year in May, 2,389 people flew out of Rhinelander while this year that number dropped to 773. In April only 752 took off from Rhinelander while in April of 2011, 2,091 passengers’ boarded planes in Rhinelander. And not only passenger numbers have dropped, but so have the numbers at concessions like rental car companies, parking lot fees and fix based operation fuel revenues. “It’s a pretty bad scenario when you look at the numbers just in the last year,” said Brauer.
Airport Director Robert Heck wrote a letter to Dennis Devany, DOT aviation analysis director, in late May citing “…the community finds itself on a month to month basis with Frontier Airlines with no estimated time in the future for transitioning both airlines,” he wrote. “Because of this uncertainty we have seen a major decline in passenger ridership at Rhinelander.”
Part of the problem is the fact that smaller airline companies are having a hard time finding appropriate, and economical, equipment to transport passengers. “The equipment out there is getting old and is not cost effective to fix up to fly commercially,” said Brauer. “And new equipment is too cost prohibitive for these small companies to purchase and make a profit.”
That’s the case for Great Lakes Aviation, the company that responded and won the bid the DOT put out last September to replace Frontier at Rhinelander. But times have been hard for Great Lakes in those nine months. “Great Lakes has during this time seen its operational performance suffer from a very aggressive expansion rate, and believes it must allow some time for our Minneapolis/St. Paul hub system to mature,” said Doug Voss, president of Great Lakes Aviation, in a letter to DeVany. “While we continue to be aggressive about the development of or Minneapolis/St. Paul operation, we do not wish to hinder communities from considering alternatives.”
Brauer believes the bid process to replace Frontier will take place within the next couple of weeks. “We’re hoping for the best,” he said.