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Sawyer International affected by industry-wide pilot shortage

SAWYER, MI— Sawyer International Airport is losing one of its Detroit flights next month.

Starting October 6, the morning departure and evening return flight will be dropped.

Sawyer Director Duane DuRay says airline industry woes are to blame for the move. During the pandemic, airlines reduced their flight schedules and many pilots were offered early retirement, while other pilots took leaves of absence. So, when flights began to fill up again, airlines lacked the number of pilots needed to accommodate them. DuRay says that has Delta looking to enlist pilots from smaller airlines.

“The main line—the Delta main line carrier or the legacy carrier—they are recruiting a lot of their pilots from the regional carriers that provide service to our outlying airports. And that has impacted us more directly because those regional carriers are now struggling to find pilots, and that’s where the bottleneck begins.”

Airline troubles notwithstanding, Sawyer is embarking on a plan to expand its terminal. DuRay says the Federal Aviation Administration has conducted several studies on the project.

“The study indicated that our terminal has a lot of deficiencies, namely with the size of the sterile area where passengers wait for the aircraft. And it limits our capacity to service some of the larger aircraft that are flying these days.”

The estimated overall cost of the expansion is roughly $32 million, $7 million of which would be the local share. The remaining funding would come from the feds and state of Michigan. DuRay says $7 million will be difficult for a county like Marquette to shoulder, and airport officials are hoping the state will assist with additional supporting dollars.

Once the FAA approves the project, a year-long engineering phase begins, followed by two years of construction. DuRay hopes to move into the initial stages of construction by 2025.

Nicole was born near Detroit but has lived in the U.P. most of her life. She graduated from Marquette Senior High School and attended Michigan State and Northern Michigan Universities, graduating from NMU in 1993 with a degree in English.