Taking flight; after months of speculation…Appalachian Air is a reality (Pikeville) Appalachian News-Express

Article originally posted to the (Pikeville) Appalachian News-Express web site on November 8, 2013 http://news-expressky.com/edition/

Taking Flight 

After months of speculation, debate and planning, Appalachian Air is a reality 

BY CHRIS ANDERSON

NEWS EDITOR 

Commercial air service in Pike County figuratively took off months ago with the awarding of a federal grant. On Wednesday, however, the service had its first literal takeoff.

At an unveiling event Wednesday afternoon at the Pikeville-Pike County Regional Airport, local, state and federal officials unveiled the county’s new commercial air service and also revealed the name for the service — Appalachian Air. About 300 people gathered in one of the airport’s hangars for the unveiling of the service, which saw officials such as Gov. Steve Beshear and Congressman Hal Rogers join local officials in lauding the establishment of the service and encouraging residents of the region to utilize the new airline.

Pikeville City Commissioner Jimmy Carter, who opened the event, said the establishment of commercial air service was the result of a group of determined local leaders who never gave up on their hopes for commercial air service. He said the launch of commercial air service, expected to begin carrying passengers in early March, will make the region accessible to the rest of the world.

“This is an opportunity to open the hills of the Appalachian region to the world,” Carter said.

Carter was joined on stage by several people who had a part in establishing the air service venture. Carter added that the air service is not a venture of chance, but one which officials, such as the ones onstage with him during theevent, believe will work and be successful.

“Trust me, this did not happen by accident or chance,” he said.

Pikeville City Manager Donovan Blackburn, while quoting iconic aviation pioneer Charles Lindbergh, said the region’s elected and appointed officials have to stop “living in the dreams of yesterday” and “wake up and understand the reality of today.”

“We need to understand that doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results simply does not work,” he said.

Blackburn detailed the steps taken by local officials to establish Appalachian Air. He said there have been several starts and stops, but those seeking to establish the service persevered and eventually were successful in luring an airline to the region — in Pike County’s case, Corporate Flight Management.

“Finally, after four contracts, here we are,” Blackburn said. “Through the labor and cooperative spirit of many, we were successful.”

State Sen. Ray S. Jones II spoke about the apparent support for the commercial air service initiative. He said in spite of those who doubt the service will work, he believes it is a worthwhile venture.

“I think the turnout, if you look around this room, it’s clear that the people of Eastern Kentucky support commercial air service,” Jones said. “We’ve always had people that were skeptical about Eastern Kentucky.”

Jones said there have been doubters for such ventures as the Kentucky College of Osteopathic Medicine at the University of Pikeville; Pikeville National Bank; and the continued growth of Pikeville Medical Center. He said those doubters have been silenced by those ventures’ successes and, he believes, they will be silenced again on commercial air service.

“I think when we look back a few years from now, the naysayers will be proven wrong yet again,” Jones said. “I think that this will be a hugely successful undertaking.”

Jones also addressed the airport board’s near-unanimous support of the commercial air service venture. He did not shy away from the fact that the venture was not universally accepted as viable and approved.

“When this project first came to my attention, it was pretty quickly obvious that there some folks who were naysayers, who were skeptics,” he said. “It’s okay to be skeptical of a new idea. It  is not okay to be an obstructionist.”

Jones went on to commend the members of the Pikeville-Pike County Airport Board who voted in favor of the contracts between the City of Pikeville, the airport board and the airline to establish the commercial service.

Absent from Jones’ recognition of the individual members of the airport board was member Brent Wagner, who voted against entering into the contracts.

Rogers, who began his remarks by complimenting Pike County for its resilience in establishing the air service, said the establishment of the service was both difficult and complicated. He complimented local officials for their workon the venture and said the dedication of those working on the initiative “typifies the kind of attitude that I love about the mountains of Kentucky.”

“I’ve learned one thing about Pike County and Pikeville: When you people set your mind to something, get out of the way, and this is one of those big times,” he said.

Beshear said the new service will breed opportunity for the region, which has traditionally been one of the most difficult to reach. He said many facets of the region will benefit from it.

“This daily service will support the coal industry and existing initiatives related to the health and higher education sectors of Eastern Kentucky, and even more importantly it’s going to open up new opportunities just like a new road or highway would do,” the governor said. “It’s part of our ongoing efforts to invest not only in the physical infrastructure of this region, but also in the people infrastructure, the human capital, in this region.”

The new air service is expected to depart Pikeville seven days per week upon its anticipated launch on March 3, utilizing 19-passenger Jetstream J32 turboprop airplanes. As part of the contract to lure the service, local officials agreed to a revenue guarantee agreement with the airline to compensate for unsold tickets.

Southeast Kentucky Chamber of Commerce Chairman Danny Vanhoose said he is confident that if the turnout for Wednesday’s event is an indication of the initiative’s support, funding may not be an issue. He also said the air service is an important part of the future economy of the region.

“Certainly, this is a key component to economic development, economic diversification,” Vanhoose said. “This is certainly something that is an absolute critical need that we’ve had.”

Airport board Chairman Bill Hickman spoke only briefly during Wednesday’s event, but used his time to encourage those in attendance to support the service.

“Buy tickets, please,” Hickman asked, drawing laughter from the crowd.