A proposal to attract a new commercial carrier to the Idaho Falls Airport received much needed financial support recently when the U.S. Department of Transportation announced approval of a $500,000 grant.
The award is part of the transportation department’s Small Community Air Service Development Program, designed to help improve air services. The program will distribute nearly $19 million to 68 small communities in 29 states to help address the challenges of local air service, such as high fares and insufficient levels of service.
“Local air service helps to support the businesses and economies of our nation’s communities,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta when he announced the grants in August.
“These grants will help support efforts by small communities to preserve and expand their links to the national air transportation system, connecting residents to the rapidly expanding U.S. economy.”
Funds will be used in one of several ways, including studies to determine air service needs, marketing programs that encourage communities to use commercial carriers that offer local air service, or as incentives to air carriers.
The grant program began in 2002. Many of the previous grant recipients are benefiting from the funds or soon will gain new or upgraded air service. Passenger traffic has increased at most local airports where a grant went into effect over the past three years, according to Mineta.
The Idaho Falls project proposed to help facilitate the initiation of United Express service directly to and from Denver. Funds would help offset start-up costs, provide revenue guarantees and provide advertising/marketing support.
“Idaho Falls Regional Airport has been served primarily by the same two carriers for the last 20 years, SkyWest and Horizon,” according to the grant executive summary. “While the service these two carriers provide residents and visitors is exemplary, the capacity offered has not kept pace with the demands of the market.”
Horizon offers non-stop flights to Boise, most of which is local in nature or connects in Boise with other Horizon flights to Lewiston, Spokane, Seattle/Tacoma and/or Portland. All three of the daily flights stop in Pocatello, either on the way out or inbound.
“Delta Air Lines has provided service to Salt Lake City for the last 20 years, originally with mainline equipment before contracting with SkyWest for a mix of turboprop and regional jets before moving to an all-regional jet fleet in the past few months.
Delta provides service to destinations in the West but offers limited choices to passengers destined for the Midwest, Great Lakes and Eastern U.S., according to the grant application.
“The majority of passengers traveling east of Salt Lake City are required to double-connect in Atlanta or Cincinnati. Presently, the Idaho Falls Regional Airport loses roughly 40 percent of its local passenger traffic to leakage, primarily to Salt Lake city.”
The grant proposal seeks to increase enplanements and usage of the local airport by recruiting and retaining additional air service for the community. Service could begin early next summer.