TRAVERSE CITY — Passenger traffic continues to grow at Cherry Capital Airport.
The number of people who boarded commercial flights at the Traverse City airport jumped from 199,801 in 2014 to 214,684 in 2015, an increase of 7.4 percent. That's great news for the airport's funding situation.
"All of our federal funding is based on enplaning passengers," said Kevin Klein, airport director. "If you get on at your airport, you fund your airport."
The number of people who deplane, or get off an airplane at an airport, has no bearing on federal funding, he said.
Cherry Capital Airport currently receives about $1.8 million a year in federal funds.
The Traverse City airport's strong growth stems from airlines' acknowledgment of the growing demand for seats by adding flights to and from the airport.
August 2015 saw Cherry Capital's highest passenger traffic in history, Klein said.
About 60 percent of the airport's passenger movement involves leisure travelers. The other 40 percent mostly involves business.
"It may level out more in the wintertime," Klein said of the passenger balance.
Interlochen Center for the Arts students and their parents provide a healthy bump in traffic at the airport, Klein said. Traffic figures spike when students arrive for class terms and again when they leave, and when they travel the globe for auditions and performances.
Klein said he makes it a point to mention specific local sources of passenger traffic when he meets with carriers in his continued effort to bring more flights to the airport.
"When I present, I do a whole page about Interlochen," he said.
The National Cherry Festival, the Traverse City Film Festival and the Great Lakes Equestrian Festival also bring heavy spikes of passenger traffic to Traverse City. Klein said each horse entered in the equestrian festival brings with it five to seven airline passengers. The horses don't fly — they travel by highway. But their trainers, owners and others help boost human air traffic through Cherry Capital Airport.
Movie stars also contribute to the airport's annual passenger total.
"The Monday after the film festival is our busiest day of the year," Klein said.
January figures for airport activity showed that airline takeoffs and landings were up 14.9 percent from the same month in 2015. The number of passengers enplaning increased 4.3 percent to 12,293 people. Another 10,482 got off planes in January at Cherry Capital Airport, up 6.1 percent from January 2015.
Military takeoffs and landings fell from 1,040 in January 2015 to just 321 in January 2016. Military activity at Cherry Capital usually is mostly driven by U.S. Coast Guard Air Station Traverse City, Klein said, but traffic from the Grayling Army Airfield at the Camp Grayling Joint Maneuver Training Center also can contribute.
A Coast Guard spokesman said nothing unusual happened at the Traverse City station in January.
"Every day, there are guys out there training," said Lt. Cmdr. Pablo Smith, U.S. Coast Guard. "It was pretty much average for us."
Air taxi takeoffs and landings fell from 501 in January 2015 to 383 in January 2016.
"That's mainly charter aviation that will always cycle," Klein said.
Itinerant takeoffs and landings fell from 1,552 in January 2015 to 1,220 in January 2016. Klein said the itinerant classification refers to local small plane traffic mostly confined to nearby counties, and can vary widely with weather and other factors.
Cherry Capital Airport still has some open appointment times for frequent travelers interested in enrolling in the TSA Precheck program, which allows identified low-risk travelers a streamlined security screening process. Appointments are available through March 11. Visit www.identogo.com/TVC.aspx to view requirements and make an appointment.
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