Falls airport drops to two flights per day

Emily Gedde

With the summer months winding down, the Borderland area is seeing less boats being pulled through town, motels aren’t as full, and there aren’t as many people coming in and going out on airplanes.
Because the tourism season is coming to a close, Delta airlines—the flight provider to the Falls International Airport—will lower its daily flight schedule from three flights to two.
Flights will leave at 7 a.m. and 1:02 p.m., and arrive at 12:42 and 8:30 p.m. daily
“For the time being, Delta’s online schedule shows that the change for flights in and out of our airport will go down to two in and two out each day,” said Susan Baratono, airport commission secretary.
“Of course, whenever you’re dealing with any airline, schedules can and do change, but this is what we know for now,” she added.
Bob Anderson, chairman of the International Falls-Koochiching County Airport Commission, said the reduction in flights shouldn’t be a problem.
“I believe that two flights per day after the summer months is adequate for an airport our size,” he remarked.
Because of a new arrangement the Falls airport established with Delta airlines and the Department of Transportation back in May, there will be at least two guaranteed flights in and out each day.
The agreement—the Essential Air Service program—allows small communities like International Falls to obtain a contract so that air service can continue, and that at least two daily flights in and two flights out will take place at the airport.
“Because we’re a tourist destination during the summer, Delta volunteered to have three flights come to our airport because they would be filling seats,” Baratono explained.
“For now, we have every reason to believe that we will have three flights again next summer.”
International Falls is one of eight service cities in Minnesota, and Anderson said Delta is happy to keep serving the community and surrounding area.
He also said the numbers of people coming in and going out on flights was up this summer.
“As we work our way out of a struggling economy, we did see positive figures for activity at the airport this summer,” Anderson noted.
“We even experienced some instances where we were over-booked.
“As much as we hate to see the busy season come to a close, we’re prepared for the transition back down to two flights and we can hope to still have steady air traffic,” he added.
In the past, Delta saddled the Falls airport with what Baratono called an unfortunate flight schedule.
The first plane did not leave the Falls until around 1 p.m., leaving visitors flying to or from Minneapolis with large gaps in between flights and not allowing them enough time to catch other flights elsewhere if needed.
“That schedule didn’t have a very good effect on our airport,” Baratono said.
“Everyone wanted an earlier departure and a later return than what we had.”
“Roughly 99 percent of people fly beyond Minneapolis,” noted Anderson.
“We needed to get these people more appropriate flight times locally or they were going to drive to somewhere like Duluth, Bemidji, or Hibbing to catch more convenient timed flights,” he stressed.
Under the EAS agreement, U.S. Sen. Al Franken, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar, and the DoT convinced Delta to get the Falls airport more reasonable times that will be an easier accommodation for flyers.
The first flight is scheduled to leave at 7 a.m. and the final flight doesn’t get in until 8:30 p.m.
There also is a plane scheduled to arrive in International Falls at 12:42 p.m. and leave at 1:02 p.m.
“With this schedule, folks will be able make good connections with flights elsewhere,” Anderson noted.
“Before, it was almost impossible for people to get somewhere in the same day. And the number of passengers we were putting on the planes were dropping significantly.”
“The timing of when flights are coming in and departing is just as, or even more, important than the number of flights we get,” Baratono stressed.
The contract is in effect until May 31, 2012.
After that, it will be renegotiated with the same rules being applied that are in place now, and the DoT will make sure reasonable agreements that best meet the public’s interests are met.
Meanwhile, Anderson said he met with Delta officials last week and expects changes to occur as soon as 2011 that will affect the Falls airport.
Currently, Delta has a fleet of 26 340 SAABS, which are propeller planes that fly in and out of International Falls.
Each plane is equipped to seat 34 passengers.
“Delta is looking to reduce their propeller plane inventory next year and upgrade to CRJ 50, which is a 50-passenger jet,” Anderson explained.
“Essentially, Delta is looking to become an all jet fleet.”
Anderson said this could be a good thing for the area, but also will pose a challenge for the airport.
“This is an issue because, all of a sudden, we have more seats to fill,” he noted.
“Air service is a ‘use it or lose it’ affair,” he warned. “We need to get everyone together, including our friends in Canada, and get bodies on these planes to fill these seats.”