Sun Country Negotiations Won’t Delay Airport Expansion
The Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC) has accepted a $26 million bid from Knutson Construction Services to add three new gates to its Terminal 2 location.
Actual costs of the expansion are $27.5 million, although the question of which airline will dock at the new gates remains up in the air.
Worries that a Sun Country Airlines departure from Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport could curb the project persisted after concerns that a labor agreement couldn’t be reached between the pilots and their employer. Pilots authorized the union to call a strike in February when 209 out of 216 eligible members of the Air Line Pilots Association voted in favor.
Owners of Mendota Heights-based Sun Country could reduce operations depending on the outcome of the labor agreement, but have also threatened to discontinue all operations.
“Our hope is that an agreement can be reached that will allow the airline to continue growing air service and jobs at MSP International Airport,” said Garry Warren, vice president of planning, development and environment at the MAC, in a statement.
On Monday, Warren told the Star Tribune that he doubted a total shutdown would occur, saying, “Sun Country has operated at [the airport] for 33 years” with an array of owners who survived more than a few bankruptcies. Warren notes that other low-cost carriers would likely fill Sun Country’s vacancy, specifically JetBlue and Virgin America—two airlines that have yet to appear at the Minneapolis-St Paul Airport.
Last year, Sun Country served 1.7 million passengers with a 17 percent rise in first quarter figures compared to Q1 2014, according to the MAC. More passengers have been choosing Sun Country as well. A nearly 20 percent increase in passenger traffic has been found, despite the number of flights decreasing slightly. Industry standard for load factor (the percentage of seats filled per flight) stands around 80 percent as of March 2015, according to the Bureau of Transportation. Sun Country’s load factor was more than 10 percent higher in the same month.
Airport wages get a bump
Beyond the expansion, the MAC approved a $10 minimum wage for airport employees that will begin August 1. The state minimum wage kicks up to $9 on the same date, but the workers, who transfer luggage, drive carts and clean planes, will now receive $1 more.
The pay increase will apply to some 2,800 workers who currently earn about $8 an hour. The Service Employees International Union, the representative group for these low-wage workers, had been pushing for a rise to $15 an hour.
MSP isn’t the only airport in a bout for higher minimum wage. Workers at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport were excluded from a $15-per-hour minimum wage increase in 2013. Surrounding hotels and businesses currently receive the higher pay rate as airport workers continue to appeal their debarment from the wage increase.