Travel Scene: Rochester airport looks toward brighter days


Rochester International Airport passenger totals were at their lowest level in years in 2011, but airport manager Steve Leqve is hoping for a turnaround this year.

Incoming and outgoing passengers last year totaled 224,327, a decrease of 15,910 — or about 6.6 percent, from the 2010 figure of 240,232.

Various factors played into the decrease, including the termination of Allegiant Airlines service, and a cutback in the number of flights offered by the two carriers which regularly serve RST: Delta Airlines and American Eagle, the regional carrier owned by American Airlines that's now undergoing bankruptcy.

Delta dropped its two daily flights between Rochester and Detroit in 2011, while American temporarily trimmed its service between RST and its Chicago hub. American Eagle will add a flight later this spring.

The airlines, hit by rising fuel prices as well as the nation's economic downturn, have reduced service levels to most of their markets as they strive to operate existing flights at closer-to-capacity levels.


With flight and passenger levels down here, Leqve and the airport's consultant, Mike Mooney, have been lobbying various airlines to either start or improve service. Mooney works out of Denver for Sixtel Consulting Co.

At a recent air service development meeting in Florida, the two met with Delta, American, Allegiant and Twin Cities-based Sun Country, a charter airline.

"We're hoping to convince Allegiant to start operating here again. Two destinations that come to mind that would be popular here are Phoenix and Orlando," Leqve said. Sun Country, a charter airline, does make some stops in Rochester already, mainly to Nevada gambling destinations.

It was at the Florida meeting that American made it certain that they would improve existing service to Chicago by adding a fifth daily flight in April.

"We're hoping to get some results from the Rochester market analysis we presented to airline officials, but nothing is certain in this current market," Leqve said. "Things can change very quickly, one way or another."

As far as the airport's operating revenues are concerned, in 2011 there was a decline of some $68,000 in commissions (consisting of parking-lot fees, car rentals and fixed-base operator revenues), but land and building rent of airport-owned facilities continues to grow, according to Leqve. That category is now the second-largest source of revenue; it totaled nearly $916,000 last year.

The airport property is owned by the city of Rochester, which provides utilities, insurance and fire protection costs, while the airport itself is operated by the Rochester Airport Co., a subsidiary of the Mayo Foundation.

The airport company retains $50,000 annually (since 2006) of profits and turns over the remainder — $696,000 in 2011 — to the city, which is set aside for future airport improvements.


Older travelers may get 'break'

Some air travelers over the age of 75 are getting a break at selected airport security checkpoints under a test program that allows them to keep their shoes and light jackets on and skip pat-downs.

The new guidelines from the Transportation Security Administration has taken effect at four U.S. airports and are part of an effort to move away from the TSA's one-size-fits-all security procedures and speed lower-risk passengers through security lines, according to the Associated Press.

Similar changes were made last fall for travelers 12 and younger.

The changes in guidelines have been introduced at a limited number of security lanes at Chicago O'Hare International, Denver International, Orlando International and Portland International. These airports were chosen because they have a higher percentage of travelers 75 and older, the TSA said.

Rules are being relaxed indefinitely at the four airports with the intention of expanding elsewhere if it is a success, the AP reported.

Removing shoes during checkpoint screening has been a common complaint among airline travelers since security was increased after an al-Qaida operative tried to set off a bomb built into his shoe on an American Airlines flight in December 2001.

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