Slightly fewer than 5,000 passenger enplanements were recorded in 2007, but outbound ridership increased to about 9,200 in both 2011 and 2012, airport officials said last week.
Kelly Braun, who took over as airport manager in November 2007, said the increase is due to several factors. The economy has improved and there are better schedules now, in addition to Moab simply drawing more tourists, he said.
The economy had a big impact on ridership in 2008, when outbound numbers dropped from 7,349 the previous year to just 5,885.
Now that passenger numbers are holding steadily in the low 9,000s, Braun hopes to see those numbers bump a little higher – to the 10,000-passenger threshold. That’s because the amount of federal funding the airport receives is tied to the number of enplanements.
Canyonlands Field now gets $150,000 per year in what Braun calls “entitlement funds.” That funding would soar to $1 million annually if Canyonlands Field enplanements reach the 10,000 mark.
“It’s frustrating,” he said of the increased funding that has been just out of reach.
More tourism is the only way to reach that goal, Braun said during an interview. Even if an airline began offering service from Moab to Salt Lake City, he said there are not enough local residents interested in that route to boost travel numbers significantly.
Braun estimates that less than 10 local residents are vocal supporters of daily flights to and from Salt Lake City. Currently, commercial flights from Canyonlands Field connect to Denver as the major hub.
The Moab Area Travel Council is responsible for marketing Moab as a tourism destination.
“Wherever they decide to focus those marketing dollars, it would be beneficial to the airport to publicize how easy it is to get here,” Braun said.
He notes that services available to travelers at the airport include shuttle buses, rental cars and jeep rentals.
“You can start your vacation right from the airport,” Braun said.
The travel council makes that information available in several ways, said executive director Marian DeLay. The council’s website, www.discovermoab.com, has an entire page devoted to transportation.
“It tells them we have Enterprise Car Rental there,” DeLay said. “On the same page, it highlights our shuttle companies. We really do try to address all the travel options people have on our website.”
Council staff members make sure to tell potential visitors who call for travel information that they can fly directly to Moab from Denver, DeLay added. She and other staff members also tout the airport and its services when they attend trade shows or conventions, she said.
Great Lakes Aviation and Red Tail Aviation fly out of Canyonlands Field. Great Lakes is a scheduled service while Red Tail is an on-demand charter service, meaning a customer can walk up to the counter, get a price for a location, and travel.
Last year, Braun said, Red Tail logged about 4,900 enplanements and Great Lakes had about 4,100.
Customers on both airlines count toward the year’s total that Braun reports to the U.S. Department of transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration to qualify for entitlement funds. However, flights taking passengers up for skydiving do not count toward the enplanement numbers. Nor do planes that shuttle river rafters, unless they take off at Canyonlands Field. River shuttles that take off elsewhere but land here don’t count in the annual total.
The annual $150,000 subsidy isn’t the only money available from federal sources. Projects on the airport’s improvement list also can receive funding from the U.S. Department of Transportation, such as in 2010 when federal funding paid 95 percent of a new airport fire engine costing about $700,000.
The Utah Department of Transportation’s Aeronautics Division kicked in 3 percent of the cost and Grand County provided 2 percent, Braun said.
Federal funding was available because having a fire engine that meets federal guidelines is a mandate for operating the airport.
“They can’t require us to have a fire truck and then not give us money for it,” Braun said.
A similar funding formula was used to build a new fire station and for a runway lighting project at Canyonlands Field, he said.
Two new projects for 2013 are ready for construction in the coming months. Bids will be taken in a few weeks for improvement of the access road to Canyonlands from U.S. 191. Another project this summer will provide a separate boarding area for planes transporting skydivers, keeping them away from larger commercial planes.
Braun said the latter is a safety issue because foot traffic for skydiving planes now crosses the area where commercial planes are located.
“A lot of time they’re not paying attention to what’s going on around them,” he said of skydive clients.
Also, those passengers have been entering restricted areas without going through security, Braun said.