Saturday, October 25, 2014

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Glendive's airport is a busy place

By Jason Stuart

Ranger-Review Staff Writer

No one will ever mistake Dawson Community Airport for a major hub of air service activity, but every day, the little airport bustles with more activity than you might think.

Cape Air’s two daily passenger flights to Billings are the most obvious traffic. But there’s more than meets the eye. 

According to airport manager Leon Baker, every morning sees a UPS plane land delivering parcels. 

Flights routinely come in with specialists bound for Glendive Medical Center as part of a hospital outreach program. 

Corporate jets land on a frequent basis with executives for companies like MDU Resources.

The airport averages about 11 air ambulances a month, Baker estimates, and there is always general aviation, of which Baker said there can be “quite a bit.”

Baker is not without help at the airport, however. Cape Air maintains a staff of four at the airport, working as ticketing/baggage agents. The Transportation Security

Agency has a staff of three to screen passengers and their luggage.

Baker is especially pleased with the efficiency in Glendive’s air passenger operations since Cape Air took over service in December. 

The utilization of the service has increased exponentially.

Ridership is up at all the Montana towns Cape Air now services, according to Baker, with increases from just over 30 to nearly 80 percent. 

But according to Baker’s calculations, Glendive’s air passenger service has seen an astounding 282 percent increase in use since Cape Air took over, which bodes well for Glendive’s continued inclusion in the Essential Air Service program.

“We’re hopeful that things continue the way they’ve been continuing,” Baker said.

One of those helping keep that passenger service running smoothly is Cape Air pilot Gregory Schramuk.

Schramuk, a Chicago native who formerly worked as a flight instructor in Washington, D.C., has been flying for Cape Air for two years, his first commercial airline gig.

Schramuk has been assigned to the Glendive route for all of three weeks, having spent the previous six months flying the route from Havre to Billings.

There are challenges to flying such a small aircraft — Cape Air uses nine-passenger Cessna 402s — out of a rural airport.

But the biggest challenge is that he’s on his own when it comes to providing that safety and comfort.

“It’s the fact that I’m the only one up there (that makes the flight the most challenging), the decisions are solely up to me,” Schramuk said. “I’m the sole operator, and it can be a challenging experience, especially when there’s weather.”

It’s that challenge that keeps him flying, however.

“If there wasn’t a challenge on a daily basis, I wouldn’t be doing this, I’d be bored out of my mind,” Schramuk said. “Aviation’s kind of a love-hate relationship, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”

 

Reach Jason Stuart at rrreporter@rangerreview.com.

 
Get the whole story in the Thursday, June 26, 2014 print issue of the Ranger-Review.
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