Enplanement numbers at the Manhattan Regional Airport saw a rise in 2021, though have yet to reach the facility’s 2019 peak.
New Director Brandon Keazer spoke with KMAN about the airport’s recovery after a major downturn amid the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. Keazer took over for previous director Jesse Romo in November as Romo departed to serve as director of airports in Wichita. Prior to the directorship, Keazer worked as the assistant airport director at Manhattan for six and a half years.
Keazer says pandemic-prompted restrictions had major impacts on air service in 2020 and that the start of the 2021 year was rough in terms of enplanements as well. He says American Airlines only offered two flights per day to Dallas until March. The situation’s improved since, with an additional route to Dallas as well as Chicago service being reinstated as well.
As a result, MHK closed out 2021 having enplaned an estimated 57,000 passengers. The figure is up from the 32,000 reported enplanements in 2020, though not quite to the high of 77,000 the airport reported in 2019.
“[I’m] definitely pleased with how the end of the year ended up,” says Keazer. “And we’re hoping that we can carry that over into 2022. COVID seems to be coming and going in waves and right now we’re in a position where COVID is rearing itself back up.”
COVID cases have seen rises locally and nationally of late. Keazer says travel rates are lower in January and February, leading him to remain optimistic that the current wave will subside and MHK will start seeing enplanements in March onward that look closer to numbers seen in 2019.
Keazer discussed the planned runway renovation project at MHK as well, slated to start work in 2023. The overall price tag of the project is estimated at $54.5 million, $6 million of which the City of Manhattan is responsible for covering. The additional funds are sourced from a combination of Federal Aviation Administration and Department of Defense grants that will pay for about 89 percent of the total cost.
“The piece of pavement that’s out there hasn’t been touched since 1979,” Keazer says. “If you sit back and you think about what Manhattan Regional Airport looked like back in the seventies when that pavement had its last big reconstruction project, it’s changed a lot.
“We’re definitely to the point that we need to do something about that pavement out there.”
Design work on the runway project was reported to have passed the 60 percent mark in November, with completion of design anticipated in early 2022. Once complete, Keazer says bidding on the work will begin and ultimately the airport will halt service for a period of months when construction gets underway in 2023.
“We have a crosswind runway that intersects that primary runway,” says Keazer. “When the construction gets to that portion of the crosswind, of the intersection, unfortunately the airfield has to be closed.
“That’s one of the things we’re evaluating in the design, is coming up with that schedule of how we’re going to do this […] construction to prevent as much as possible challenges to flights.”
The exact time period the airport is anticipating air service will be suspended remains to be seen, and Keazer says more concrete details on the schedule will clear up in the next three to six months. Weather will be a factor in the plans, with Keazer saying a spring or summer closure for the project may be preferable for that reason.
“The contractor that’s going to get this project is going to be on a very tight schedule,” says Keazer. “When construction starts, we need it done as quickly as possible in order to not have as many disruptions to airline service.”
Keazer also discussed paid parking at the Manhattan Regional Airport. Manhattan City Commissioners approved parking fees as a way to fund parking lot improvements in 2019 and necessary maintenance.
“We had a lot of areas that were graveled lots and areas that were basically just fields that we had to cover in to meet the demand of folks that were flying out of here,” Keazer says.
Fees went into effect in 2021 at a reduced rate of $2.50 per day. As of January 1, 2022, that rate has risen to the originally planned $5 daily cost to park.
“And as a reminder, that first hour of parking is fee and then the parking is stepped until you hit that maximum daily amount,” says Keazer. “So the first hour is free, your second hour you pay a dollar, and so on until you hit that $5 amount.”
Just over $100,000 was collected in parking fees in 2021, which annually will fund debt service for the completed parking lot improvements.