Great Lakes Airlines (GLA), the commercial airline serving the Quad Cities area, is exceeding initial expectations of the numbers of passengers flying out of the Prescott Municipal Airport after it expanded its flight service last December.
Kathy DeFreitas, the Prescott-based station manager for GLA, said increased boardings from Ernest A. Love Field put Prescott-based operations among the more profitable of the routes GLA flies.
Passenger count is up more than 100 percent over the same time last year, DeFreitas said. “When I compare just the last quarter, here are the numbers: January to April 2016: 881; same time period in 2017: 1,749. And Spring Break this year was really good to us. This past March, we carried 532 passengers, whereas in March 2016, it was only 263.”
DeFreitas attributes the big passenger growth to the increased number of flights and to the larger aircraft GLA now brings to Prescott.
More and more passengers have discovered the non-stop flights from Prescott to Los Angeles International Airport. They like the convenience of free parking, no waiting in long lines to clear the security check, and the really rapid baggage claim when they return to Prescott.
“We also have code sharing with other airlines, so that really makes a difference when transferring to another carrier,” she said.
“They also like the 30-passenger Embraer 210 Brasília twin-engine turbo-prop planes that have a restroom and a flight attendant who gives them personalized attention,” said DeFreitas, a 14-year GLA employee.
DeFreitas said passengers tell her they like the option of flights to Denver, too, though they are offered only twice a week – Mondays and Thursdays.
“By far, our most popular flights are the ones to and from LAX – about a nine to one ratio,” she said.
Two new California stops are under consideration later this year. Carlsbad is just north of San Diego; and Stockton, just east of San Francisco and south of Sacramento.
“We want to continue meeting our mission of being the leading scheduled air service provider to smaller communities throughout the western United States,” DeFreitas said.
GLA Anticipates Positive Growth, But With Challenges
John Freeman, GLA custom service director for the Cheyenne, Wyoming, based regional airline, agrees with DeFreitas. “We foresee nothing but positive growth in enplanements from Prescott. Our passengers tell us they like the convenience of not having to fight traffic, of not being in a huge terminal where pre-boarding time is spent in long lines. They can park free and walk directly into the terminal. They also like the fact of competitive fares and code-sharing with other airlines.”
Interestingly, Freeman cited a major obstacle for all airlines – regional, national and international carriers. “Simply put, we are running out of qualified pilots,” he said.
“In just the next two or three years, 18,000 commercial airline pilots are retiring. And we only have about 15,000 pilots in the pipeline.”
Freeman has been with the airline industry in regional, national and international operations since 1988. He has been an executive with GLA for the past eight years.
Pilot shortage is the biggest challenge the industry faces, he says. “Thirty years ago, the challenges were technology. Later, it was fuel shortages and fuel costs. But now – not enough commercial pilots. Every airline is struggling to solve that shortage. We at GLA are doing all we can to identify and encourage interested people to get into aviation flight schools and qualify for a commercial pilot license.”
Freeman praised Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott for being an international leader in aviation training programs.
Recently retired former GLA president Chuck Howell, whose home office has been in Cheyenne, told QCBN that during the time he was president, he frequently heard passengers praise the airline for offering the expanded routes from Prescott. “We were pleased with the local and surrounding communities’ response to our upgraded service. I know that GLA executives look forward to continued passenger growth. They will work with the city and the airport staff to enhance customer experiences.”
City of Prescott Airport Manager John Cox and his assistant, Jessie Baker, said they welcome the support GLA is providing the city in shifting the airport to regional airport status. “We view the airport as a major economic force, especially in the future as more high technology businesses view the Quad Cities area as a potential site for operations,” Cox said.
“Seeing growth at the airport, both in commercial flights and in businesses related to aviation and aerospace, will be a tremendous economic boost for the greater community,” said Baker. “As we view it, everyone is going to benefit.” QCBN
By Ray Newton, QCBN