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Saturday, March 24, 2018

Cape Air passenger numbers are holding steady

By Jason Stuart

Ranger-Review Staff Writer

Utilization of Cape Air’s passenger air service from Glendive to Billings appears to be holding steady through the first half of 2017.

“It is very positive to see it fairly steady there,” said Cape Air spokeswoman Erin Hatzell.

Through the first six months of 2017, 2,063 passengers have passed through the terminal of Dawson Community Airport. According to statistics from the Montana Aeronautics Commission, Glendive’s passenger numbers through June are 2.3 percent less than they were through June 2016.

However, Hatzell said comparing the official statistics from this year to last year is problematic. That’s because from about March last year through the end of 2016, Cape Air had “tagged flights” between Sidney and Glendive. That means that due to a pilot shortage for much of last year, the company combined one of Glendive’s two daily flights to Billings with one of Sidney’s flights, which Hatzell said skewed the Glendive passenger numbers for most of 2016.

“Just the way our system’s set up, it’s not accurate accounting,” Hatzell said of the 2016 passenger numbers. “There’s just not really a way to do a comparison for this year to last year.”

That fact would hold true for four out of the five Montana communities Cape Air services, Hatzell added. The airline ran “tagged flights” during 2016 through Glendive, Sidney, Glasgow and Havre.

Hatzell said that in fact, passenger numbers at the Glendive airport are actually up through the first six months of 2017. 

Evidence of that can be seen in the numbers for the first two months of the year, which can be more accurately compared with the same months from last year because the “tagged flights” did not begin until March 2016. In January of this year, 390 passengers passed through the Glendive airport, a 40.3 percent increase over January 2016. February saw 256 passengers use the service, a 7.3 percent increase over February 2016.

Sidney, by comparison, was down in both January and February of this year from what it was last year. Sidney is definitely seeing fewer passengers these days, Hatzell noted, and has been on a downward trend since the Bakken oil boom went bust about two years ago. Sidney, however, still services considerably more passengers than Glendive does, with 7,697 passengers having passed through the Sidney airport so far this year.

Glendive does remain the least utilized of the five routes Cape Air services in Montana. Havre is the next lowest with 2,392 passengers so far this year. Glasgow has serviced 3,126 passengers so far in 2017 while Wolf Point has seen 3,633. Hatzell maintains that Glendive being the closest of the five communities to Billings combined with the lowest gas prices in recent years is the reason it tends to see the fewest passengers.

However, since June, Cape Air has a new pricing structure for its Montana flights that can make flying to Billings from Glendive cheaper than driving for all but the most fuel-efficient of cars.

Cape Air passengers can now get a one-way ticket to Billings for as low as $29, depending on each flight’s passenger load. The tiered rate structure can also land a passenger a slightly higher $39 rate or the standard $49 fare, depending on how booked up each flight is. In essence, the earlier you book your flight through Cape Air, the more likely you are to get one of the cheaper fares.

“The earlier you book and the more flexible you are, the better your chances of getting that lower fare,” Hatzell said.

Cape Air rolled out the tiered rate structure in June following several months of test marketing on routes they service in the Midwest. Hatzell said the new rate structure had “really good success” in the test markets and appears to be catching on quickly in Montana too.

“We’ve been seeing pretty good results here as well,” she said.

Reach Jason Stuart at rrreporter@rangerreview.com.

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