A change in the skiesby Cara Hetland, Minnesota Public Radio
Business at some air charter services in our region has more than doubled in the last seven years. As businesses grow and expand in communities like Fargo, Sioux Falls, Duluth and Rochester, so are their charter air links. Business executives say spending less time traveling means they save money.
Sioux Falls, S.D. — You can see horizon in all directions from Jack Browning's office window. He also sees small private planes lined up near the runway, waiting for takeoff.
Browning, general manager of Landmark Aviation based at the Sioux Falls Regional Airport, says as senior business managers need to travel more, they're choosing charter service over commercial.
In some cases it saves money. But it also gets them home in time for their kids' activities.
"It's more convenient," said Browning. "If you've got four senior guys, and you can fly them out of Sioux Falls and go to Minneapolis and maybe go to Duluth, and then return here within the same day, then it's cheaper. Because there's no way you can do that in one day on an airline."
Airports in Fargo, Rochester, Duluth and Sioux Falls are feeder airports, and commercial flights are only to hub communities like Minneapolis and Denver. That means many business trips on domestic flights require an overnight stay.
In Sioux Falls, Delta recently cancelled its nonstop daily flight to Atlanta. Jack Browning says whenever there are delays and flight cancellations, his business booms. Most often it's business travelers who need to catch connecting flights somewhere else.
"Somehow they pool their money and come up with a check or credit card, and we'll take them," said Browning.
About a dozen businesses in Sioux Falls have corporate planes. One is the ethanol company Poet. The corporate headquarters may be in Sioux Falls, but the company's plants are in isolated, rural areas.
Politicians often charter planes, allowing the congressional delegation to spend less time traveling and more time with constituents. South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds pilots his own plane to get to and from events.
But most companies still rely on commercial travel or a mixture of commercial and charter. Both of Sioux Falls' largest hospitals own planes. According to Mark Johnston, spokesman for Sanford Health, the planes are used to transport patients. Johnston says Sanford also charters a plane daily so specialists can see patients at its clinics.
"We have 25 hospitals, 115 clinics and about 400 physicians spread over 80,000 square miles," he said.
Johnston says all other travel is by commercial airlines, but he says that's also changing.
"Having an organization of our size, we predominantly use commercial airlines for different meetings, and that's getting smaller and smaller because of technology," said Johnston.
Johnston says there are more meetings held via video conference and the Internet than in person.
The growth in charter service is also an economic development tool. Jim Coyne, president of the National Air Transportation Association, a lobbying group for charter services, says improvements in transportation allow businesses to have a headquarters anywhere.
"The reason they can operate out of a city like Sioux Falls is that now, with private aircraft or charter aircraft, they can get in a plane and cover the whole country from Sioux Falls in a day and be back," said Coyne.
Coyne says overall, air charter bookings have doubled in the past seven years, in part because of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
"When you know everyone else on the airplane with you, you can be more comfortable and not worry about any terrorism act," said Coyne.
There are added bonuses, Coyne says, to charter flights. No long security lines. Also, fewer delays because of crew shortages or technical troubles.
Coyne expects the proposed takeover of Northwest by Delta to have little impact on charter services. He says there are enough people who need to get places, to go around.
- All Things Considered, 04/28/2008, 5:50 p.m.