SkyWest’s commercial flights account for only about 3 percent of the annual activity at the Aberdeen Regional Airport, according to local estimates of air traffic.
On behalf of Delta, SkyWest has two arriving flights in Aberdeen each day and two departing flights. The only exception to that schedule is the addition of a third flight during the first month of the pheasant hunting season. In 2014, that third flight was offered four days a week from Oct. 16 through Nov. 20.
The 1,492 landings and departures from those flights are just a small percentage of the overall air traffic at the airport for the entire year. Cody Roggatz, Aberdeen’s transportation director, estimated that the number of 2014 “operations” at the airport at 44,165. Operations are categorized as takeoffs, landings or approaches at the airport.
While there’s definitely more general aviation traffic, Roggatz said it’s important to note that both commercial air traffic and general aviation traffic are important to the airport.
Roggatz said Aberdeen’s number is an estimate of local traffic based on data from his office and the three local fixed-base operators, often referred to as FBOs. Those FBOs are Aberdeen Flying Service, Quest Aviation and Hangar 9.
The fixed-base operators offer fuel sales, hangar services, flight instruction, charter flight services and aircraft maintenance.
Aberdeen is one of many local airports that doesn’t have an air traffic tower communicating with pilots as they takeoff and land. As such, Roggatz said, there is no comprehensive log of all the flights that take place at the airport. His estimate of flight operations locally are subject to review by the Federal Aviation Administration and could change once that review takes place. But, his estimate is similar to the estimated activity in 2012, which is the last year an estimate was completed. At that time, he said, an estimated 46,805 takeoffs, landings and approaches took place at the airport. That’s a difference of less than 6 percent.
Taking a deeper look at the numbers, Roggatz said that in addition to SkyWest, additional consistent traffic at the airport are cargo flights for local package deliveries for places like UPS, FedEx and the post office. Two of these flights arrive and two depart each day. One on a single-engine turboprop aircraft and one on a twin-engine turboprop.
Roggatz said the approaches, which are part of the overall activity at the airport, consist of training flights where pilots approach the airport and get a visual of the runway, but don’t land. The approaches are often from students studying at the University of North Dakota aviation program, he said.
Lewis Smith, chief pilot at Aberdeen Flying Service, said it doesn’t surprise him that general aviation numbers are much higher than commercial traffic.
“For a town the size of Aberdeen, the airport stays very busy,” he said.
There are 24 privately owned hangars at the airport, and Roggatz said there’s room for additional development. When a hangar is built, he said, the structure is privately owned, but the land is leased from the airport.
How do pilots communicate?
Without a tower monitoring air traffic and prioritizing landings, Roggatz said, that task is left to the pilots who radio in their position when they get close to the airport and announce their intentions to land. Not only does that alert pilots who are getting ready for takeoff, it also notifies pilots who are in the air. They can then communicate their position and determine the landing order.
If multiple aircrafts are in the air, Roggatz said, it’s usually no more than two or three. He said wind often dictates that many of the incoming and outgoing flights attempt to use the same runway.
Roggatz said that if maintenance is needed on one of the two airport runways, an announcement is made.
For now, he said, flight traffic at Aberdeen isn’t at a level where an air traffic tower would be considered. He said that would be an FAA decision as the FAA finances the operations of the towers.