Chicago Flights, A Hotel And A New Piper: Cherry Capital Airport's Klein Speaks
By Luke Haase | June 3, 2019
Cherry Capital Airport’s Kevin Klein is making news. First he landed non-stop flights to Denver, Dallas, and DC, then brought Costco to town, inked a deal with Elite Airways to get direct service to Florida, and then upset some neighbors when he cut trees per an FAA regulation. The Ticker sat down with Klein to hear what’s on his radar next, including a possible airport hotel.
Ticker: How did the Elite flights to Sarasota go this past winter?
Klein: Over spring break it did awesome. All the adjectives you want. One-hundred percent loads that whole three-week period around spring break. Since that time, they’ve been running in the lower 70s to upper 60s [percentages], which is very typical for a new route. Summer advance bookings are looking decent, and we’re still pushing out promotions on those – the opportunity to bring your family up from Florida to avoid the summer heat and visit us here.
Ticker: I understand it’s gone well enough that now Elite is interested in potentially flying new routes TVC-Chicago?
Klein: That’s right. Elite has reached out to Warren [Call, at the TC Chamber] for more community data, and they’re looking at Chicago and seeing what airport incentives there are and what the community is looking for. There are some exciting opportunities there.
Ticker: You attend industry conferences. What do all the airline representatives think or say about Traverse City?
Klein: They see us as very positive. You know, we’re what I call a relatively low-risk market. When they add seats [on flights] here, they see an immediate return, and they’re not seeing that in similar markets. And they know they can add a [direct flights to a] city and we can start slowly and prove it works, get traction, and then daily service can come later and be strong. A lot of airports and cities won’t accept that; they want daily service from the start. So they know us and our seasonality well.
Ticker: Looking back on the tree cutting, were there any regrets or observations about how that all happened?
Klein: Looking back on it all, I’ll say the airport was saddened and disappointed that the typical chains of communication -- units of government, the media -- didn’t project the project like most are communicated. In the future we will definitely change how we deliver the message by using different and multiple sources. And one of the big things we acknowledge this year that was new in Grand Traverse County but could happen in Leelanau too is that there were five newly elected officials. We need to educate those new officials beforehand. Another thing we’re going to look to change is to communicate more on an annual basis with an annual report, discussing all the projects going on here and our events and a general data update.
Ticker: The Airport Authority is now studying potentially huge changes to how Cherry Capital is managed. What’s the latest there?
Klein: So far both Grand Traverse and Leelanau Counties have provided three people each to a shared airport governing advisory committee. We had our first meeting in April to set the bylaws and calendar. The goal will be to discuss airport governance focusing on four possible scenarios: 1) staying governed as we are, 2) staying an airport commission but with some adjustments to our model, 3) following Federal Act 95 and have an airport authority, or 4) create something new, a new form of governance altogether. What generated the discussion is we’re coming up on 2020 when the current agreement expires, and the standard leasing policy for the airport is 20 years, so a new lease would expire in 2040. We want to look at it now when there's time and there are no issues or pressure on it.
Ticker: And I assume you personally favor one scenario?
Klein: I haven’t settled on one, if you want the truth. If we stay the same, we know our direction. If we make changes it could give us more authority or less on changes we make here on the property. Under the airport authority model there would be some regulatory issues that could help us but some negatives in bonding and credit. So we need to vet all that through. Basically the airport authority would give us more flexibility to have more of a business focus versus a regulatory focus. The goal is to be wrapped up in a year and make a recommendation to the Airport Commission, which would then recommend to both counties.
Ticker: Have you considered bringing on a “new” Piper?
Klein: Oh, there’s been lots of thought about it, and in time, yes. It’s interesting. The animals actually get used to having a predator [like Piper] around, so having a time gap to change things up is a good thing. We’re also looking at drones. But in time I believe we’ll have another canine unit, yes.
Ticker: What do other rural airports do to keep wildlife away from runways?
Klein: Many use screamers or sirens. They chase. They do some lethal taking of animals. But habitat management at all airports is a must.
Ticker: Will there be a hotel here on the airport property at some point soon?
Klein: We’re currently reviewing a strategic business plan, looking at all our lands here and determining the best long-term use of all the property. A hotel is always one from a traveler standpoint that would be a great asset, whether that’s over in the 40 acres [adjacent to Costco] or closer to the terminal and parking lot. We’ve had some interest from local hotel groups and some from national ones, but no commitments yet.
Ticker: And you have some news that will eventually really benefit people who have their flights canceled here…
Klein: Yes, I just heard from the FAA on May 9. We had asked them last year to go to an Instrument Landing System (ILS) for our Runway 10, where there are visibility issues when landing from west to east. The trend is going toward GPS systems, but GPS just doesn’t work well there with heavy rains and winds. We asked to use some of the existing $4.50 Passenger Facility Charge to go to an ILS there. We had help from [Congressman] Jack Bergman and Senator Peters, and we were just told “yes, you can do that.” And that should solve about 100 flight cancellations a year. That would cut our cancellations in half. So we hope to get that done in probably two years.
Ticker: Two years? Why so long?
Klein: Oh, that would be fast for the FAA.