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(from left) Amy Echelberg, flight attendant, Sarah Muetzel, ground security coordinator, Beth Naslund, station manager, Mary Gentry, Dylan Fox, Joe Hedrick, manager of the Thief River Falls Regional Airport, Roderick Byron of Prior Lake, Anna Lundeen and her daughter, , Jon Coleman, director of business development for Denver Air, Lydia Phillips, Sheri Lallier of Thief River Falls, and Darryl Tveitbakk of the Thief River Falls Regional Airport Commission.
December 22, 2022 07:21 AM
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THIEF RIVER FALLS, Minn. — Thief River Falls Regional Airport celebrated 8,000 passenger enplanements on Monday, the first time the airport has hit the milestone since 1999.According to Airport Manager Joe Hedrick, reaching the 8,000 passenger milestone comes with benefits — namely, a $450,000 annual increase from its current level of FAA funding. Under the FAA's Airport Improvement Program, airports that see between 8,000 and 10,000 passenger enplanements during a calendar year receive $600,000 in the following fiscal year toward infrastructure improvements.'We have to spend the money on FAA eligible items, which generally speaking has to do with safety, capacity or noise related issues,' said Hedrick. 'Airports have to hit this mark every year in order to continue receiving increased funds, so when planning for the upcoming fiscal year, we look back at the previous year's passenger count.' Prior to receiving this increase in AIP funds, Hedrick says the airport had to forgo desired improvements under its $150,000 AIP allotment."We've had to learn how to operate with a fraction of what other airports receive in federal funding," said Hedrick. "We were competing with airports nationally for discretionary funds, which generally were limited to the most critical, safety oriented projects. Hedrick says the increase in AIP funds will allow the airport to purchase a new tractor for snow removal, which will cost between $200,000-$250,000. He says purchasing such equipment would be cost-prohibitive under the airport's previous $150,000 AIP entitlement.'Fortunately, this increase in AIP funds will allow us to purchase the equipment,' said Hedrick. 'We will also use a portion of the funds on a terminal study, to determine what modifications can be done to support the growth in passenger traffic, or if we need to completely rebuild.'Hedrick said that prior to 2021, the airport had not come close to reaching 8,000 enplanements."We started to see passengers return in June and July of 2021 in a big way," said Hedrick. "We finished the year with 6,996 enplanements, which is significant given most of our passenger traffic occurred in the second half of the year."Hedrick cited Denver Air Connection's arrival to the airport as a major factor behind reaching 8,000 passengers this year. He said in previous years, passenger numbers were hampered due to the perceived unreliability of the airlines serving the airport. (from left) Amy Echelberg, flight attendant, Sarah Muetzel, ground security coordinator, Beth Naslund, station manager, Mary Gentry, Dylan Fox, Joe Hedrick, manager of the Thief River Falls Regional Airport, Roderick Byron of Prior Lake, Anna Lundeen and her daughter, , Jon Coleman, director of business development for Denver Air, Lydia Phillips, Sheri Lallier of Thief River Falls, and Darryl Tveitbakk of the Thief River Falls Regional Airport Commission. (Dave Hill/Thief River Times) "The demand for air travel — both business and leisure — is present in the area," said Hedrick. "We just weren't being served by a reliable airline offering a quality product. When Denver Air arrived, they changed that perception. They offer affordable airfare on jet aircraft, as opposed to the turboprops that used to service our airport, which I believe has the connotation of being a superior airline."As part of Monday's festivities honoring the milestone, all 21 passengers traveling on Denver Air Connection's flight to Minneapolis/St. Paul were entered into a drawing for prizes. Five passengers won gift cards to local businesses, and one passenger won 12 round trip tickets on Denver Air Connection.According to Hedrick, the drawing took passengers by surprise. 'None of the passengers knew we were doing this, so it was quite a surprise for them,' said Hedrick.Looking ahead, Hedrick is hopeful that the airport will reach 10,000 passenger enplanements in 2023, which would increase its AIP entitlements to $1 million.'We are probably going to come up just short of 9,000 passengers for 2022,' said Hedrick. 'However, we believe that we can bridge that gap of around 1,000 passengers in 2023.' Related Topics: THIEF RIVER FALLSAVIATION