St. Cloud will lose daily air service to Chicago in spring

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St. Cloud airport has offered non-stop daily flights to Chicago for less than a year, but the airline is already planning to pull out because of low passenger numbers.

SkyWest Airlines, which makes the twice-daily flights from St. Cloud to O'Hare in Chicago, said Wednesday it will discontinue those flights in April, the St. Cloud Times reports.

The airline informed St. Cloud Mayor Dave Kleis on Wednesday during a conference call that also included Gov. Mark Dayton.

The company said it decided to pull out because of "poor performance in the market," according to the Times.

The business community in particular had campaigned for a long time to get daily air service to Chicago, and when SkyWest began those flights in May it was considered a big step forward for the area's economy.

But the passenger numbers haven't been high enough for the airline to break even. A $1.75 million subsidy to SkyWest, which it's been receiving for months to make up for the lost revenue, will be drained in just a few months.

Kleis told the Times one of the reasons for the lower passenger numbers is the airport's poor on-time performance. Data from the U.S. Department of Transportation shows the St. Cloud Regional Airport is in the bottom five in the country in terms of on-time performance – with only 55 percent of its flights arriving on time and 60 percent departing on time. (See where other Minnesota airports rank here.)

Kleis blamed the poor performance in part on delays that occur at O'Hare, stemming from weather or other situations beyond the control of St. Cloud, according to the Times.

SkyWest officials told Kleis and Dayton Wednesday they are open to resuming the service in the future if a "sustainable solution" for financing can be found, the Associated Press reports.

Kleis said Dayton promised to work on finding state funding to support air service in St. Cloud, according to the Times. Dayton's office declined to comment Wednesday on the announcement.

"We're still convinced that this will be a successful operation," Kleis said.

This is just the latest in several attempts by the St. Cloud airport to attract a carrier to fly to and from Chicago. MPR News blogger Bob Collins said the effort may be a "lost cause," in part because fares from St. Cloud are often a lot more expensive than ones from the Twin Cities.

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