Commonwealth Journal

October 6, 2013

Subsidy needed to launch commuter air service

by Bill Mardis
Commonwealth Journal

Somerset —

“If we can raise the money we have the service.”
The current status of commuter airline service in and out of Lake Cumberland Regional Airport was so verbalized by Martin Shearer, executive director, Somerset-Pulaski County Development Foundation, and Luke B. Schmidt, consultant for the airport project.
The development foundation has in hand a written proposal for airline service submitted by two companies: Public Charters Inc., of Avoca, Pennsylvania, and Corporate Flight Management of Smyrna, Tennessee. The two companies propose to operate daily (including weekends) nonstop round-trip flights between the Somerset airport and Nashville International Airport. 
The aircraft would be a 19-passenger British Aerospace BAE Jetstream J31turboprop. The Jetstream J31 is a state-of-the-art, high performance pressurized aircraft with stand-up cabin, lavatory and two pilots. It cruises at 265 mph with a service ceiling of 25,000 feet, above most weather. The Jetstream can easily take off and land on the 5,800-foot runway at the Somerset airport, Schmidt noted.
The flight to Nashville is about 45 minutes. It would connect to flights in Nashville operated by nine airlines, including low-cost Southwest Airlines. The are 49 nonstop destinations out of the Nashville airport.
Martin and Schmidt emphasized the “critical juncture” in what they describe as “ ... a very, very valid proposal” is “right now we don’t have the money.” All airlines, opening a new hub, lose money for a time after start-up. Schmidt estimates it would take a year for a local commuter service to become profitable and the local airport, the community or somebody would have to cover the losses.
Shearer said the development foundation has applied for a $1 million grant from Small Community Air Service Development, an agency of the U.S. Department of Transportation. If the money becomes available, a contract for a minimum revenue guarantee would be made with the carrier to make up losses established by audit,” Schmidt said. “We would only make up verified losses in revenue,” Shearer emphasized.
Emphasizing the companies’ sterling reputations in the airline industry, Shearer and Schmidt reiterated: “If we can raise the money, we have the service.”  They said the two companies making the joint proposal really believe a commuter service out of Lake Cumberland Regional Airport can be profitable.
A recently completed regional survey of airline travelers indicates a robust market in this Southern Kentucky area for a commuter airline service at Lake Cumberland Regional Airport.
Released by the development foundation, the survey indicates a potential annual enplanement of 142,166 passengers who would use airline service in and out of the Somerset airport. “This is not just Pulaski County ... this is the region,” Schmidt said. He called airline service a tremendous trigger for economic development.
Shearer and Schmidt said attractiveness of commuter service in Somerset would be convenient location, time saved and free parking.
“We could be ready to go in four or five months after a source of funds is identified,” Shearer said. Public Charters would be responsible for ticket distribution, passenger check-in, boarding, baggage, cargo handling and all other ground functions. Corporate Flight Management, serving as the direct carrier, would be solely responsible for flying, aircraft, aircraft maintenance and flight crews.
Screening of passengers would be done at Lake Cumberland Regional Airport’s state-of-the-art terminal, making it quick and easy to board flights out of Nashville.
Schmidt said the two carriers making the proposal for commuter service in and out of Somerset assure a rigid flight schedule to and from Nashville. Only interruptions would be weather or mechanical problems.
“We’ve worked for three years to bring this project to fruition and we believe this is just the type of service we need in order to re-launch passenger air service successfully in this market,” Shearer said. “While we still have some hurdles to overcome, we are pleased to be at this particular point,” he added.
A Florida-based commuter airline operated out of Lake Cumberland Regional Airport, first to Nashville and then to Washington, D.C., for a little more than two years. It was subsidized with about $900,000 obtained by Congressman Hal Rogers from the U.S. Department of Transportation and $100,000 in local matching funds. No sustaining local source of funding developed before the federal funds were exhausted and the airline shut down February 19, 2010.