Reporting Bill Hudson
ST. CLOUD (WCCO) — In an empty parking lot east of St. Cloud’s airport, the only birds heard taking flight have the chirp of sandpipers. The City’s airport terminal sits empty and jet ways lead nowhere. But now city and business leaders have a plan to bring a carrier back.
Despite a $5 million investment in the regional airport’s passenger terminal, ramps, runway and tower, the airport has no commercial air carrier.
“It steadily declined from six flights a day to four and then two, to finally no flights a day,” said St. Cloud mayor Dave Kleis.
Ever since Delta Airlines pulled out of the airport in 2010, St. Cloud’s air travelers have been forced to drive 75 miles to MSP International.
That’s both an inconvenience to passengers and costly to business. It’s estimated that having local air service with connecting flights to anywhere in the world adds $17 million of annual economic activity.
That’s one reason the city is making the return of air service a top priority. To entice an air carrier to begin serving local customers, the city and area business leaders have a plan. They’re soliciting area companies to pledge up to $5 million in annual travel commitments.
In addition, St. Cloud was awarded a $750,000 U.S. Department of Transportation grant that will be matched with another $250,000 in city funds. Together, the $1 million would insure any prospective carrier against operating losses.
The grant, along with the so-called travel bank of pledged business, smaller airlines like Spirit Air or Sky West could find the daily service between St. Cloud and Chicago O’Hare worthwhile.
“We’re saying to airline X, ‘here’s a business commitment that this group of businesses will pledge this much air travel to this route,’” said Kleis.
If it’s successful in attracting a smaller carrier, Kleis hopes that it would just be a matter of time before competition would bring Delta Airlines back in — giving businesses a badly needed alternative to an empty parking lot.