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Joplin airport sees big increase in passenger traffic - KOAM TV 7

Joplin airport sees big increase in passenger traffic

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Joplin's Regional Airport seeks to renew its contract with American Eagle.  The contract first needs the go ahead from the U.S. Department of Transportation since Joplin is classified as an Essential Air Service Airport.

This contract renewal follows numbers that are more than pleasing to Joplin's airport manager, Steve Stockam.

There are two departures to Dallas a day and Stockam says there's now an issue of too much passenger demand for what's available.

In 2011 American Eagle began serving Joplin's Regional Airport after Great Lakes departed the area for good.

"We started out with the ATR 72, 66 passenger airplane," says Stockam.  "We converted over to the regional jets last February."

According to Stockam in 2010, the last full year of Great Lakes service in Joplin, the airport saw about 7,800 inbound and outbound passengers.

However, during March 2011 to February 2012, the first full year of American Eagle service, more than 53,000 passengers came through the airport - an increase of about 600%.

"The jets have proved to be very very popular, obviously - people like jet airplanes - they're a little faster, a little quieter," says Stockam.

American Eagle flights are from Joplin to Dallas but Stockam says a survey shows most passengers want to fly there as their destination or transfer instead of Kansas City, which was offered by Great Lakes.

American Eagle still has not been able to break even on its Joplin service, but money needed to fill that void has decreased.

At the beginning of American Eagle's contract with Joplin, the airline said it would need $2,778,756 per year in subsidy from the federal Department of Transportation.  Now, American Eagle is asking for only $342,559 a year.

Stockam hopes in another two years the airport can support itself.

"Being inside the Essential Air Service program, there's an inflexibility for the airlines to change services, and add, and do the different things that we'd like for them to do," says Stockam.

That could become a reality if airport numbers continue to climb altitude.

Stockam says he hopes Chicago will be added as a destination along with Dallas.

Stockam hopes this change will be made during the next two years or when the airport can support itself.

The Department of Transportation is expected to issue its contract renewal decision between American Eagle and Joplin any day now.

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