By Gabriel Monte: CNJ staff writer
High fuel costs may have grounded private pilots in Clovis but they have played a hand in the increase of passengers flying out of Clovis in the last year, according to Clovis Municipal Airport Director Steve Summers.
And more use of the airport is expected as Cannon Air Force Base receives more personnel as it transitions to a Special Operations Wing and as the city’s economy grows, Summers said.
The number of passengers flying out of Clovis has increased by at least 1,200 since 2003, partly because of Great Lakes Airlines, which started flights out of Clovis in 2005.
“We needed to have a better schedule and more reliability and Great Lakes is providing both of those for us,” Summers said.
Summers said high fuel costs have made flying to Albuquerque from Clovis economical.
“A lot of times it’s cheaper to fly out of here than to drive to Albuquerque, because of the gas price,” Summers said.
Great Lakes Airlines Marketing Director Monica Taylor said a one-way ticket to Albuquerque, where all Great Lakes Airlines flights from Clovis go, costs $79 if booked 30 days in advance.
In 2007 the airline reported 2,527 passengers departing from Clovis, according to Summers. He said the Federal Aviation Administration uses departing flight passengers to decide how much funding airports receive.
Achieving the 2,500 passenger target has enhanced the airport’s status from a general aviation to a commercial service airport, which opens up federal funds for terminal renovations.
“And we’re going to need to redo our terminals to meet the increased passenger load that is anticipated in the next coming years,” Summers said.
A project to extend the runway is also planned in a few months to better handle corporate jets. The Department of Transportation approved Monday $637,200 in funding for a taxiway that connects to the extended runway, according to Summers.
He said an increase of corporate jets using the airport has justified the project. He said the number of jets flying in and out of the airport increased from an average of one to two a month to two to three a week.
“We’ve never had that kind of traffic before,” Summers said.
However, Taylor said the airline has seen an 8 percent to 9 percent decline this year in the number of passengers in Clovis this year compared to last year, according to Taylor.
“It’s not a significant number but it is a trend that we’re seeing across the board that people are not spending any of their discretionary income on travel as much as they were – they’re saving it just due to the economy,” she said, adding that the airline company hasn’t raised its rates since fuel prices started rising.
Summers said the year-to-date number of departing flights from Clovis is 1,185.