Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Airport gets $500K to fund air service

Grant will support connection to East Coast


By GREG MOORE
Express Staff Writer

A SkyWest airplane is prepared for boarding at Friedman Memorial Airport. SkyWest provides year-round air service to Salt Lake City. A new federal grant to the airport is intended to support a new commercial air connection to the East Coast. Express file photo

    Friedman Memorial Airport has been awarded a $500,000 federal grant to fund a minimum-revenue guarantee for expanded air service to the East Coast for one year.
    “This new service will have a huge and immediate impact on tourism and our local economy,” said Eric Seder, president of the nonprofit Fly Sun Valley Alliance board, which works to promote commercial air service to Friedman.    
    Receipt of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Small Communities Air Service Development Program grant was announced Monday.
    The grant application was submitted in July by the Friedman Memorial Airport Authority in partnership with Fly Sun Valley Alliance and Sun Valley Resort, with assistance from air-service consulting firm Mead & Hunt.
    According to a news release from the three local partners, 59 communities submitted grant requests, and 25 were awarded grants totaling $11.5 million.
    Fly Sun Valley Alliance Executive Director Carol Waller said the local partners will negotiate for the new service with United Airlines, which she said has “terrific connections” to East Coast airports and which submitted a letter of support with the grant application. She said those negotiations will include routes and a revenue guarantee cap.
    Waller said the local entities are free to negotiate with another airline if a deal with United doesn’t work out.
    Seder said the service could connect between Friedman and “potentially two new cities.” Candidates mentioned in the news release were Denver and Chicago.
    Nonstop service between the East Coast and Salt Lake City already exists from New York City, as does one-stop service from Boston and Washington, D.C.
    Waller said that if all goes as planned, the new service will begin in summer or winter 2014.
    If the service is to continue for more than a year, another source of funding for revenue guarantees will probably need to be found. One proposed source is a proposed 1 percent addition to local option taxes, on the ballots in Ketchum and Hailey this November.
    “If we want to be able to sustain and market these flights, much less add any additional cities, we absolutely must have a dedicated funding source as part of a private-public partnership for air service,” Seder said.
    During its first year in 2002, the Small Communities Air Service Development Program provided $600,000 to kick off Horizon Air’s nonstop service between Sun Valley and Los Angeles. That service remains in operation during the peak winter and summer seasons with the help of a minimum-revenue guarantee funded by Sun Valley Co. and Fly Sun Valley Alliance. The amount of that guarantee has not been disclosed.
    United will begin serving the Sun Valley area on Dec. 12 with nonstop daily flights from San Francisco in winter and summer as part of a recently negotiated air service contract with Fly Sun Valley Alliance and Sun Valley Resort. It is the first new airline to serve Sun Valley in more than 20 years.


Greg Moore: gmoore@mtexpress.com




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