In the first five months of 2009, definite trends have emerged in the volume of traffic recorded at the Monett Municipal Airport.
According to the count of planes taking off and landing during business hours, the flight total has been down, as might be expected with a weaker economy.
However, the tally does not show a general numbers drop. Pleasure flights are up sharply, while use of the airport by businesses has continued a downward trend.
Flights by plane owners renting hangar space at the Monett airport are up most significantly. The 366 flights recorded from January through May reflect a 24 percent increase over a year ago.
The 930 non-business related landings and take-offs through May represented a 7 percent rise over last year. Overall non-business related flights are up by 11 percent from the beginning of 2008.
Non-business flights have been rising steadily since 2006 and are now at a four-year high for January through May, for both planes kept in Monett hangars and those coming in from outside.
Business flights, on the other hand, were down 36 percent from the first five months of 2008. This drop is not unprecedented. The first five months of 2008 were down 24 percent from the beginning of 2007.
Total business flights in and out of Monett have dropped by a little more than half between the first five months of 2007 and 2009. Flights by the Monett-based businesses that have their own jets in Monett, EFCO and Jack Henry and Associates, have dropped by more than half, from 465 to 221, in comparing 2008 with 2009.
Other business-related flights using the Monett airport increased by 23 percent over the same period in 2008. The current total was still half the number of the outside business flights the airport recorded in 2006.
Over a three-year period, businesses have made up a steadily decreasing portion of the activity at Monett's airport. In 2007, documented weekday flights during business hours made up 41 percent of the total takeoffs and landings for the first five months of the year.
In 2008, business flights dropped to 33 percent of the total. In 2009, business activity made up 23 percent of the flight total through May.
The grand total of business and pleasure flights during business hours on weekdays has added up to 1,682 in 2009, a drop of 7 percent from 2008. Flights for the same period in 2008 were down 5 percent from the 2007 peak.
Fuel sales by the city have reflected a decrease in activity, said City Administrator Dennis Pyle. The city sells more jet fuel than general aviation fuel, Pyle said. Since businesses flying jets use more jet fuel than the pleasure flights, he expected revenues from fuel sales will be lower than 7 percent.
"We're just part of the downturn of the economy," said Airport Superintendent Howard Frazier. "Everybody's slow right now."
Frazier observed the price of fuel has dropped enough to encourage more flying by amateurs. Some of those whose planes are housed at the Monett airport have undertaken training to get instrument ratings and thus have been flying more.
Though flights have been down at the airport, Frazier said there is plenty of work for the maintenance crew to do. Even long-planned changes, like getting a new Automated Weather Observing System (AWOS) with airport improvement money through the state, may have to wait.
A new AWOS system should be located where there is no height restriction, Frazier said, unlike the current site which is restricted for hangar construction. Frazier was doubtful if there was enough airport improvement money this year to cover the cost of additional land farther from the airport.
If not, the project would have to wait. Frazier said the old AWOS system has run 24-hours-a-day since 1994. Some of the components are no longer available, making the planned replacement a timely undertaking.
There are no plans to add more T-hangars at the airport immediately. Frazier said while hangar rental alone does not cover construction costs, hangars draw traffic. More traffic generates more federal funds.
"You can't see [the additional] funds down tomorrow, but down the road hangars are a help and an asset. Drawing more traffic is what an airport is all about," Frazier said.