Regional airport trio makes case to city leaders
June 8, 2017
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  • Officials with western Kentucky’s three largest airports believe that only by working together can they tackle the threats regional commercial air service faces every day.

    And they’re taking their message on the road.

    Owensboro-Daviess County Regional Airport Manager Bob Whitmer was joined Tuesday by his counterparts from the Bowling Green-Warren County Regional Airport and Barkley Regional Airport Authority in Paducah at the Owensboro City Commission meeting in City Hall.

    The trio, collectively known as the Western Kentucky Air Service Partnership, is a lobbying arm of the three public airports. Each manager made their case for a transportation must-have that they said saves time and money.

    “We have great air service in western Kentucky that a lot of people don’t know about,” Whitmer told the commission Tuesday. “We want to not only maintain those air services, but grow them. By coordinating on issues — both challenges and opportunities for continued service — we can obtain that growth.”

    Among those issues are discussions at the federal level to reduce essential air service funding, which protects small communities like Owensboro, Bowling Green and Paducah from losing minimal scheduled service in the wake of the 1970s-era deregulation act.

    With every diminishing dollar from that U.S. government program, Whitmer said, the future of air travel in western Kentucky is threatened.

    Bowling Green Airport Manager Rob Barnett knows that all too well.

    Only six months ago, his board made the difficult decision to cut flight service to Atlanta, which was a particularly valuable selling point for the region, considering Atlanta’s size and position as a domestic and international hub for commercial airliners like Delta. But daily passenger loads weren’t large enough to support the costs. Restrictions posed at the federal level leave smaller airports with little leeway in investments, he said.

    “This partnership works very well for us,” he said. “We are not competitors. We have flights to Destin, Florida, Owensboro has flights to Orlando (Florida) and St. Louis and Paducah has flights to Chicago. We can help each other, because what we’re all learning is that it’s getting more and more difficult day after day to maintain air service in a community this size.”

    In addition to possible budget constraints, most recently, President Donald Trump has urged Congress to consider legislation that would privatize air traffic control at airports around the nation. All three airport managers agree that, if enacted, the measure would have little effect on local air travel. Regional airports like Owensboro and Paducah are already authorized to contract air traffic control and manage agreements at their control towers with Midwest Air Traffic Control, of Overland Park, Kansas. The Bowling Green airport does not have a Federal Aviation Administration-approved control tower.

    Ultimately, however, said Paducah Airport Manager Richard Roof, airports in the region have humbled themselves and recognized that their successes depend on cooperation. It’s up to local agencies and the citizens in the communities they serve to realize the convenience regional air service offers.

    “We need to be remembered for the things we do,” he said. “People can fly great distances at relatively inexpensive rates without the hassles associated with a metropolitan airport hub. These air services are essential. They’re essential because of their potential.”