EAU CLAIRE — Keith Herbert booked a flight from the Chippewa Valley Regional Airport to Connecticut, leaving at 3:15 p.m. Tuesday and arriving at 8 p.m. for a business trip.
He would’ve arrived much later, at midnight, had he taken a flight from the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.
“It worked out great to take this flight (from Chippewa Valley),” said Herbert, vice president of sales for Catalytic Combustion Corp. of Bloomer.
He’s not the only one to take advantage of the Chippewa Valley Regional Airport’s convenience, as the airport’s total passengers increased 31 percent from March 2011 to this year.
According to airport Manager Charity Speich, a total of 3,802 flew in and out of the airport last month, compared to 2,910 in March 2011. From January to March 2012, 10,501 passengers came through the airport, up from 7,483 in the same time period in 2011.
Speich attributes much of the increased use to the airport’s switch in March 2010 to a United Airlines route to Chicago O’Hare International Airport.
Previously, the airport connected to Minneapolis-St. Paul.
“We’ve continued see increases every month since the switch (to United Airlines),” Speich said. “The passengers have capitalized on better air fare through Chicago ... and Chicago is not just a connection point, it’s also a destination for riders.”
Speich said the airport has also improved waiting areas to comfortably accommodate more passengers. Before, she said there was only seating for 24 passengers for the security area, and now there is room for more than 100.
“I think a lot of people are surprised how nice it is when they come here,” Speich said. “We’ve made a lot of improvements.”
Herbert said he has used the Chippewa Valley Airport many times in the past seven years for business trips, though he also uses the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport when Chippewa Valley flights don’t fit into his schedule.
“I travel a fair amount for work,” he said.
Also flying out of Chippewa Valley Tuesday was UW-Eau Claire student Jessica Rehtmeyer.
“I’ve been assigned to basic training at Fort Sill (in Oklahoma City, Mo.),” said Rehtmeyer, a private first-class.
She joined the Army Reserve through UW-Eau Claire and will be training at Fort Sill as well as Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri for the next seven weeks, then flying back into Eau Claire.
Along with the passenger traffic increase, Speich said more planes are flying in and out of the airport.
“In the first quarter of 2012, we had a 16 percent increase over the first quarter of 2011,” she said.
This traffic includes both passenger flights as well as private charters and flights for businesses, and the planes range from small, single-engine Cessnas to corporate jets.
The Chippewa Valley Airport runs daily routes between Chicago O’Hare, and counts approximately 35,000 takeoffs and landings annually for private and commercial flights.