Wednesday, June 13, 2012

To Boise, nonstop?

Grant could bring daily service, connector to southern U.S.


By KATHERINE WUTZ
Express Staff Writer

This map shows routes proposed for service if the Boise Airport receives a federal Department of Transportation grant. The grant would also provide nonstop service from Friedman Memorial Airport to Boise.
Express graphic by Tony Barriatua

All it would take is $1 million from a federal agency to create a direct flight between Boise Airport and Friedman Memorial Airport—and from Boise to an airport in the southern U.S., say airport officials.

Boise Airport Manager Rebecca Hupp said the Boise Airport and Friedman Memorial Airport have submitted a grant application to the Department of Transportation seeking $1 million to increase direct air service in the region. Hupp said that if approved, the money would be used to help pay for ground handling, provide minimum revenue guarantees for the airlines and to promote the new routes through marketing.

"We are specifically requesting funding to provide service to an airport in the south or southeastern United States," Hupp said.

The grant is part of the Department of Transportation's Small Community Air Service Development Program, which provides funding to small communities wishing to improve air service.

The application seeks to bring direct service between Boise and one major hub in the South or Southeast, including Dallas-Forth Worth, Houston or Atlanta.

The part that gets local airport officials excited is the direct daily service between Friedman Memorial Airport and Boise.

"Nobody would be flying from here to Texas, but they would be flying from here to Boise," said Friedman Manager Rick Baird.

Baird said Friedman's contribution to the program would be to provide marketing support. That would help send air traffic to Boise by urging passengers to save time and energy and fly, rather than drive, to the Boise airport.

The only way to fly from Friedman to Boise now is via Seattle or Salt Lake City.

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Baird and Hupp said Seaport Airlines, a commuter airline operating in Washington, Oregon and other states, has already expressed an interest in operating the daily service.

No airlines have yet expressed an interest in offering service from Boise to the south, but Hupp said the grant isn't final and the airport would have two years after the time of the award to hash out a deal.

"There is no guarantee that an air carrier will agree to provide the service," she said. "Anytime an airline starts a new service, there is an inherent risk."

Hupp said the grant funding would help mitigate that risk, "and it would provide Boise a competitive edge over other airports that might be seeking the same service but does not have the same tool."

Hupp said that even if an airline cannot be found to provide service from Boise to the south or southeast, the Boise-Friedman service is not contingent on that service.

"It's a great opportunity for Boise and Freidman Memorial Airport to work together to provide air service," she said. "The introduction of service between Boise and Sun Valley will improve connectivity overall, for both residents of the Sun Valley area as well as people who are coming there for business and tourism."

The application was submitted on June 8, and Hupp said she expects the decision to take anywhere from 90 days to six months. The Department has $14 million to award this year. It is a competitive grant process, she said, and nothing is guaranteed.

"They will award multiple grants, but the request has always exceeded the amount of funding that they have available," she said.

Katherine Wutz: kwutz@mtexpress.com




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