KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — United Airlines will take off from the Kalamazoo/Battle Creek International Airport for the last time after the new year.

Service will be stopped Jan. 3, Airport Director Craig Williams confirmed to News 8.

“Due to changes in the long-term sustainability of this particular route, United will end service to Kalamazoo at the start of the new year. We will work with impacted customers to help them make alternate plans.”

United Airlines

Williams said the stoppage is long-term but may not permanent, adding that the airline is “leaving the door” open for a return.

He said United sent him word of the move Wednesday.

“You’re disappointed because… you hate hearing that news, especially when you believe in the market. And I do believe in the market,” Williams said. “It’s tough because the airline side of the equation, the industry is working to revamp back-to-normal operations. At the same time… we’re needing a lot more seats than we had in the marketplace.”

He did not have figures on how many United workers’ jobs would be affected, but he confirmed no employees of the airport itself would be furloughed or let go.

“The grass still grows and the snow still falls,” he said. “So our responsibility of making sure that the airport is safe and secure for the rest of the traveling public will still be there.”

He said that United makes up about 18% of flights in and out of the airport, with Delta Air Lines and American Airlines making up the rest. So far this year, 57,455 total passengers have flown out of the airport: 10,655 of those flew United and 46,800 flew Delta or American.

This summer into October, Kalamazoo flights for all airlines have generally been between 75% and 80% full.

“That’s four empty seats. That’s not a lot of empty seats. You’re talking 50-seat aircraft… So, they’re essentially flying full aircraft,” Williams said.

“I really think we’re looking at a larger impact to the industry,” he continued. “Certainly, the smaller fries like us are the ones who get impacted first.”

Overall, he said, Kalamazoo-Battle Creek’s traffic is still at about 45% of pre-pandemic levels — though this year’s traffic has almost doubled over last year’s. Williams believes the commercial aviation industry is in “conservative mode” as it tries to navigate through a perfect storm of operational disruptions.

“Some of the issues that were impacting the industry before the pandemic, i.e. the pilot shortage,” Williams said. “Some of those are coming back to roost as the airlines start to return to fuller network capacity.”

Williams said he is “optimistic” passenger numbers will continue to improve.

In 2020, United paused flights in and out of Kalamazoo between July and September, citing low demand amid the pandemic.