Commonwealth Journal

September 27, 2012

Improvements, survey may be keys to airport’s new regional initiative

By BILL MARDIS, Editor Emeritus
Commonwealth Journal

Somerset —  

The runway at Lake Cumberland Regional Airport will close for up to seven days during early October to facilitate a $300,000 runway improvement project, according to airport manager Kellie Baker.
Baker said at this point she can’t say exactly what days the runway will be closed but it will be done during the upgrading project. Funded with a state grant, the upgrading includes filling cracks, sealing the surface and marking the pavement.
The airport’s other services, including landing areas for helicopters used by local and regional businesses, will remain open. 
Also, a study will be done to determine if buildings, billboards or trees obstruct the runway. This study, coordinated by Stantec, the airports engineering firm, will be financed by a $75,000 grant from the Federal Aviation Administration. 
“The obstruction study must be completed before the leaves fall,” Baker said.
J.T. Wilson Field runway is 5,800 feet, about as long as it can be at its location. The runway can’t be extended toward the west because of U.S. 27, and on the east end toward Ferguson there is a big drop-off.
 An Instrument Landing System (ILS) provides lateral and vertical guidance necessary to fly a precision approach. The $3 million, spacious, glass-bedecked terminal is an added attraction when a plane and its passengers touch down.
Meantime, it may be two or three weeks before results are known from a survey to determine if this area can support commuter airline service.
“We know we’ve had a good response to the survey,” said Martin Shearer, executive director of Somerset-Pulaski County Development Foundation. “The responses must be tabulated and analyzed before we get the results.”
Shearer is high on the potential of the local airport. He believes the region needs commercial airline service and is continuing to spearhead an effort to reestablish commuter service between the local airport and a major airline hub.
The renewed regional initiative has set two strategic goals:
• Recruit a regional airline that is aligned with a major carrier such as American, Delta or US Airways.
• Establish service to a major connecting hub.
In summary, the survey wants to know “If a major airline provides service from Somerset to a major connecting hub with reasonable fares, will you and your company use the service?” This is what commercial airline services want to know.
“We’re surveying mainly with printed forms ... distributed among chambers and business organizations in the region,” said Bobby Clue, executive director of Somerset-Pulaski County Chamber of Commerce. “Airlines are not interested unless they have statistics,” he emphasized.
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.
As part of its efforts to restore air service at Lake Cumberland Regional, the development foundation retained Louisville-based consulting firm L.B. Schmidt & Associates, LLC, to assist in the effort. The consulting firm updated the market profile, which recognizes the airport will serve 15 Kentucky counties with a combined population of 384,000 people. Luke B. Schmidt is consultant to the foundation.
Shearer said the development foundation’s efforts to recruit a commuter airline service is part of a broader effort by Somerset-Pulaski Convention & Visitors Bureau, airport board and city and county governments. “We’re just spearheading it ... we’re happy to do it,” Shearer said.
Lake Cumberland Regional Airport is jointly owned by Somerset and Pulaski County. It is operated by an airport board chaired by Don Bandy. Members are John Tuttle, Richard Vanhook, Delynn Gibson, David Morris and John Hicks.
The airport operation is financed with a 2 percent allocation from the county’s 1 cent occupational tax, amounting to about $150,000 a year, according to Baker.