This news is so good it bears repeating: The Joplin Regional Airport could, when this month is over, have seen its best passenger count in decades. Four decades, in fact.

“I believe very strongly that as we continue to move the Dallas service and the Chicago service forward, we are going to reach levels we have not seen in 40 years,” Steve Stockam, airport manager, told the Joplin City Council during a meeting Monday.

The city, the airport board and airport manager, the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce and all those who took a risk deserve our thanks.

Before American Airlines added two Chicago flights earlier this summer, it asked for and got a commitment from community leaders to pay up to $600,000 toward the cost of providing the flights during the first year if ticket revenue and other costs paid by customers did not meet the airline’s revenue goals. The City Council would provide $400,000 of the guarantee (half coming from the fund balance for the Joplin Convention and Visitors Bureau and half from the city’s transportation sales tax) and $200,000 was guaranteed by the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce Foundation.

The preliminary numbers, however, make this look like a good bet.

“We’re entering territory that we’ve not been in for a number of years. I can tell you that based on the numbers we’re seeing that we did over 9,000 passengers through the facility in June. We’ve not seen those kinds of numbers in a month since the early 1990s,” Stockam said.

Unofficial airport counts for July showed there were 3,960 passengers for Chicago and 5,809 for Dallas — 9,769 total. Advanced bookings indicate an even stronger August, with 4,000 passengers for Chicago and 6,100 for Dallas — 10,100 total.

“The last time we topped the 10,000 mark was in December of 1979 right after (airline) deregulation began,” Stockam also said, adding that it’s possible demand for commercial flight service will rebound to numbers comparable to those when passenger counts were at their peak in Joplin before airline deregulation in 1978.

Does that mean the city is off the hook for the subsidy so far?

We’ll have to wait and see. The promise was to help the airline meet revenue projections, and American still has to audit the revenue because ticket fares are different based on final destinations of the passengers, which includes international locations or connections to other cities.

Still, it looks promising, and we’re encouraged.

It is estimated about 48,000 passengers a year will use the Chicago service, on top of the 70,000 to 80,000 who use the Dallas service annually.

We encourage residents to look to the Joplin Regional Airport when they fly, and to consider the costs of driving to other airports, the parking fees there and the drive time when buying tickets.

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