Many smaller airports in Iowa are recording increased traffic as the major airlines cut back service and add new fees — and business travelers look for cheaper options. The Council Bluffs airport — right across the river from the larger Omaha airport — has seen its passenger traffic double in the past decade.
Michelle McEnany is director of the Iowa Department of Transportation’s aviation office. "It is really the best kept secret," McEnany says. "People, when they think of aviation, they think of commercial service and the big planes." But small planes — the non-commercial flights of crop dusters and smaller jets and planes flying small groups or individuals around the state and country — account for 88% of the flights in Iowa.
While there has been a roughly 25% decrease in recreational flights in Iowa, the amount of jet fuel sold in Iowa hasn’t dipped which means business-related travel may be picking up. "It’s holding its own because it is part of their business," she says. "They just roll it into the cost of doing business."
Tim Busch of Cedar Rapids, head of the Iowa Aviation Promotion Group, says the high price of jet fuel is hurting some of the state’s smaller air fields more than the larger non-commercial strips.
"What I’ve seen is in the larger communities — Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, Davenport, those kind of communities — they’re pretty solid yet. The smaller ones are really being hammered," Busch says. "They just don’t have the income base to support that kind of recreational flying as much." There are 111 airports in Iowa and only eight have commercial air service from the major airlines.