The Rock Island County Metropolitan Airport Authority got a sobering outlook Tuesday, as its consultant predicted the number of passengers flying out of the Quad-City International Airport would fall this year. Meanwhile, June figures continued to show a significant drop in traffic.
Meanwhile, the authority approved a budget for fiscal year 2018, which is somewhat smaller than the year before. It also passed a measure that holds the line on its share of Rock Island County's property taxes.
Declines haven't been unusual for the Quad-City airport over the past five or six years, but the number of departing passengers for June dropped 10 percent from the previous year, to 29,288. The year before, it totaled 32,329.
Much of that decline came from United, which saw a 30 percent drop. But American was down 11 percent and Delta 2 percent. Allegiant saw a 10 percent increase.
The June decline was the third consecutive month in which the airport saw double digit percentage declines in departures. The airport reported declines of 15 percent and 18 percent in April and May, respectively.
Some of the decline in monthly traffic in June could still have come from the loss of the United flight to Washington, D.C., which operated for eight days last June. However, the airport did not collect data for those days, so the extent to which that contributed in the year over year decline isn't clear.
Still, the overall trend was downward. Mike Bown, vice president of Trillon Aviation, the airport's consultant, said he expected the figure for calendar year 2017 to only hit 320,000. That, he said, would be a 10 percent decline year over year.
Bown said that load factor, a measure of how full a plane is, is a major contributor here. Airlines that had been competing on price over the past few years have stabilized their yields, and that's pushed load factors down.
"A lot of it’s being load factor driven, which is being affected by the fares. And based on what the airlines are telling me I don’t expect that to change through Labor Day and probably thereafter," Bown told commissioners. He said it would be "a reach" for the airport to hit 340,000 for the 2018 fiscal year, which is about the passenger numbers included in the authority's budget.
There was some encouraging news. Allegiant has scheduled a twice weekly flight to Punta Gorda, Florida, from mid-December to mid-February. That should improve traffic numbers.
Last year, the flight had operated on an abbreviated schedule, but there is intense interest in some quarters for its return. Cathie Rochau, marketing director for the airport, said the flight is popular with people who have condominiums in Florida. The Punta Gorda flight takes people to the Fort Myers, Florida, area.
Also, Bown said he expects new Florida service to be added next year. He did not elaborate in front of the commission and declined to be more specific afterward.
In other business, the airport authority approved a budget for fiscal year 2018 that appropriates $25.7 million. That's down from $27.4 million in 2016. The decrease came as about $1 million less was budgeted for capital expenditures, while the rest came from savings in debt service and insurance expenses.
The commission also approved a measure that levies property taxes of a little more than $1.4 million. That is the same as it was for fiscal year 2016, said Angela Burch, the controller.
The commission did reallocate how those proceeds are accounted for. Previously, it was capped by state law at how much property taxes it could levy for overall maintenance and operation. However, by re-distributing $1 million of those funds to other purposes, such as retirement and insurance costs, the authority has given itself more room.
The authority also approved a collective bargaining agreement with AFSCME Local 3744, which covers about 50 people. The deal calls for a pay increase of 0.75 percent in the first year, 1.25 percent in the second year and 1.75 percent in the third and fourth years. There also were some changes in benefits that will result in savings to the authority.