DECATUR — Cape Air flew 688 passengers to St. Louis and Chicago during its first month as the commercial air carrier at Decatur Airport, the airline clarified Monday.
The Herald & Review erroneously reported on Sunday that the Massachusetts-based airline recorded 1,323 enplanements, or passengers flying out, from Feb. 14 to March 15. That number actually represents how many passengers flew both to and from Decatur Airport during that period, according to Erin Hatzell, Cape Air's regional director of marketing.
Officials for Cape Air and the Decatur Park District, which manages the airport, hope to meet a goal of 10,000 enplanements by the end of the year. Reaching that threshold would give the airport an additional $1 million for improvements from the U.S. Department of Transportation, which subsidizes Decatur’s air service through the Essential Air Service program.
Airport Director Tim Wright said Monday that the number of passengers who flew out of Decatur in January and February using its previous commercial air carrier, Air Choice One, would be counted toward the goal. Air Choice One officials did not immediately respond to a request for the airline's enplanement numbers.
Hatzell said Cape Air is still "pleased" with its burgeoning Decatur service and is focusing on reaching the benchmark with its quality service and community outreach.
"We look forward to our continued growth in the market," she said in a statement Monday, adding that the airline has since reached 805 enplanements.
The Department of Transportation awarded Cape Air with a two-year Essential Air Service contract in December, against the preference of the park district and several prominent local businesses, especially Archer Daniels Midland Co.
ADM and the park district supported SkyWest, which would have provided jet service, but the department said that was not feasible because it would cost $700,000 more to subsidize SkyWest.
Air Choice One had been the airport's commercial air carrier since late 2009, but the park board did not support its bid to continue.
The goal of 10,000 passengers has been an elusive one for the airport, which last met the mark in 2006. In the first 11 months of 2017, the airport tallied 7,537 passengers flying out. The December numbers have not yet been made available by the Federal Aviation Administration. In 2016, the FAA reported 8,453 enplanements in Decatur.
In addition to Cape Air's outreach and marketing efforts, warmer weather is likely to bring more passengers, Hatzell said. "Travel usually tends to pick up in the spring and summer months, and we usually see an uptick in those months," she said.
Wright said he is waiting to see how the passenger numbers look at the end of March, the airline's first full calendar month in Decatur.
One month is only a brief snapshot of how the next two years of Cape Air will pan out in Decatur, park district Executive Director Bill Clevenger said, but he is "optimistic" about the airline's ability to get the job done and reach the goal.
"They're going to promote their product, and they're going to help us," he said. "It's hard to make assessments when you change airlines early in the process ... We'll see where we go and we'll give them a try."
Correction: An earlier version of this story had the incorrect number of passengers for the Chicago to Decatur flight. This version has been corrected.