Cherry Capital Airport Traffic Down, But a Strong Year Still in the Forecast
"The 2021 numbers, we were third in the state of Michigan." - Kevin Klein
Cherry Capital airport is gaining ground with each flight that takes off from northern Michigan. TVC airport is having a solid year so far, and they’re doing better than many other airports despite the challenges facing the industry.
Traveler numbers this year are a sign of good things to come, says the airport’s Director and CEO Kevin Klein. “Really what it’s demonstrating is that our economy in northern Michigan is strong. And it’s returning to pre-pandemic levels faster than the rest of the state.”
While air travel at Cherry Capital is down about 15%, Klein says they are down from record years, leaving TVC is pretty good shape. “We may be down this year 15% in seats as we head towards the end of the year. But that still is going to result in our 2019 numbers, which 2019 was a record year before 2021,” he says.
And while airlines are struggling with pilot shortages and flight cancellations, even down 15%, TVC is doing much better than other airports across the country. “You’re looking at airports that, 40-50% cuts in seats in the market. And number of flights and departures. When we compare ourselves in that regard we’re doing really well,” Klein says. “We’ve been above the curve for all airports throughout the country. And there’s only a handful in that category that have done that.”
Klein says one thing they are seeing is the comeback of the business traveler. It used to be about 60% leisure and 40% business. That number is starting to come back a little closer to normal. Right now it’s 70/30 with business travel starting to gain some ground.
“I was pretty impressed with that ratio of 30%. I wasn’t ready for it to be that high because I was expecting it to follow what’s happening across the rest of the country,” Klein says. “We locally are starting to see the business traveler return. Because as much as Zoom was a great asset during COVID there are a lot of face to face meetings that still need to take place. Corporations are easing up on their travel restrictions in that regard, and we’re seeing the business traveler return to the skies, and that’s going to be what keeps us going, keeps us strong through the recovery of the recessionary times.”
That still leaves a lot of leisure travelers, like Jessica Douglas, just visiting from Florida. “This is my second time getting on a plane. Yes, I’m nervous,” she laughs. But she is starting to like air travel. “To drive all the way from Florida to Michigan? The plane is the way to go.”
Paul Perry makes frequent trips here from Texas. “I travel by air probably six times a year. Probably four of those are up here to Michigan going to lakes in the summer and going hunting up north,” he says. “We were supposed to go actually to Pellston and that flight was full. And so we had to switch and come down here… Smaller airports just to get closer.” He adds, “We might have flew half as much in 2020, 2021. But for the most part that’s how we get up here. It’s a long drive from Texas to Michigan.”
It all helps lift Cherry Capital to new heights. “We’re probably going to have a top 3 year. There’s not many airports in the country that can say that,” Klein says. Overall passenger numbers put Cherry Capital at number two in the state – behind Detroit Metro and Gerald R Ford in Grand Rapids – but one spot ahead of Flint’s Bishop International.