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Boutique Air helps Thief River Falls break passenger record

THIEF RIVER FALLS--In just four months, an airline service new to Thief River Falls already has helped the city's airport break its passenger record, the airport's manager said.

THIEF RIVER FALLS-In just four months, an airline service new to Thief River Falls already has helped the city's airport break its passenger record, the airport's manager said.

The Thief River Falls Regional Airport has served 4,879 passengers this year through October, airport manager Joe Hedrick said Thursday, more than doubling its 2015 totals of 2,058 and far exceeding the 2014 numbers of 734.

"We broke the record pretty quickly," he said of 2016's figures.

Hedrick credits the arrival of Boutique Air for the increase in enplanements and departures. Boutique came to Thief River Falls in late June after beating out Great Lake Airlines, the airport's former air service, in bidding for an Essential Air Service contract.

The airport was without an airline service for about a month after Great Lakes left the city at the end of May. But as soon as Boutique took over in late June, the airport started to see its passenger numbers climb, Hedrick said. It has 18 round-trip flights to Minneapolis per week beginning at $39.


"The last three months have more or less averaged seven passengers per flight in an eight-seat airplane," he said, adding that is about six times the traffic the airport previously saw. "We used to average between one and two passengers per flight with Great Lakes."

It's a stark comparison to Great Lakes, which faced delays and cancellations at the airport. The air service had a 75 percent reliability rating with Thief River Falls, according to Herald archives.

That unreliability likely led to Great Lakes' departure, Hedrick said, adding Boutique's record has left customers happy and supportive of the change.

"The public is responding very positively," he said.

The airport suspended its flights for eight months due to changes in pilot training regulations, Hedrick said.

Boutique's contract will last into 2018, and so far it has had some delays but no cancellations. Boutique will complete its first full year of flying out of Thief River Falls next year, and Hedrick expects the airport's numbers will increase next year, especially after seeing how it has fared in its first four months.

"If the airline remains reliable and affordable, 2017 will prove to be another record-breaking year," he said.

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