By DOUG WILSON
Herald-Whig Senior Writer
Thursday's snow storm led to the cancellation of four Cape Air flights between Quincy and St. Louis, but the airline still appears to be on track to exceed 10,000 boardings by year's end.
Airport Manager Jeff Steinkamp said the airline had reported 9,654 outbound passengers through Friday. Baring more weather cancellations, Steinkamp believes Cape Air will have enough boardings to qualify Quincy Regional Airport for a federal grant of $1 million.
"If we maintain the average of six passengers per flight ... we will gain 384 more passengers" and end the year with 10,038 boardings, Steinkamp said.
There also is some safety cushion with more than 60 passengers boarding outbound charter flights that count toward the airport's enplanements. Great River Aviation operated a majority of those charter flights. General aviation, business flights and military aircraft passengers cannot be counted.
Michelle Haynes, communications director for Cape Air, said airline officials felt bad about the weather cancellations.
"It's unfortunate that Mother Nature got in the way at this time of the year, when everyone wants to get somewhere for the holidays," Haynes said.
Cape Air has been operating flights between Quincy and St. Louis since November 2009. Haynes said the Quincy community "has been extraordinarily welcoming and supportive" to the commuter airline.
"We look forward to being there for a long time," Haynes said.
Steinkamp has received lots of questions from Quincy residents and business leaders about the boardings chase. He said federal rules only count ticketed passengers boarding flights out of Quincy.
"The city and Cape Air very much appreciate the support of the area air travelers and are going to be very close to reaching our goal," Steinkamp said.
"If anyone is thinking about a trip to St. Louis on Cape Air, (this) week would be a good time to consider."
Cape Air has helped attract record passenger loads by offering $39 tickets on selected flights and improving a flight schedule that includes extra weekends flights through the end of the year.
Under the new schedule, the last plane of the evening is a Quincy arrival, which is popular with travelers seeking to get back home. The plane is then ready for a 6 a.m. departure the next day. The second departure of the day is set for 8 a.m., a half-hour earlier than the previous schedule.
Cape Air's $39 fares on selected flights also has helped build ridership in the past two months. The airline had traditionally sold tickets for $49.97 but has lowered fares on early tickets to encourage bookings.
The airline handled a record 997 passengers in October before reporting the 979 passengers in November. Those are the two largest boarding totals since Cape Air came to Quincy three years ago.
The airline receives a federal subsidy under the Essential Air Service program for offering 36 round-trip flights per week between Quincy and St. Louis. Cape Air also added a maintenance facility at Quincy Regional Airport and a ticket office at 727 Hampshire in Quincy.
Quincy Regional Airport last exceeded the 10,000 boardings threshold in 2002.