In addition to a deeper overlay on the 6,000-foot-long runway, the Elizabethtown Regional Airport at Addington Field is making improvements to its lighting system and its weather service program, said Joe Yates, chairman of the Elizabethtown Airport Board.
Elizabethtown City Council got an intimate look at the changes at the airport during its work session, in which the board and its consultant, Luke Schmidt, updated city officials on an aggressive plan to attract a major airline by the end of the year.
Since revealing its pursuit of a commuter airline service with a connection to a major hub, the airport has rebranded itself and launched millions in upgrades to meet state and federal aviation guidelines, Schmidt said. The airport also is in the process of moving its certification from a general aviation airport to a commercial airport, Yates added.
Schmidt said the airport started dialogs with seven major airlines, but airline mergers, bankruptcies, the economy and rising fuel costs stalled talks in many cases.
One major airline is showing increased interest in expanding to Elizabethtown, though, and hopes are a deal will be finalized by the end of 2011 if not sooner, Schmidt said. The airline could not be revealed for confidentiality purposes.
If a deal is struck, Yates said the airport would approach the Kentucky Department of Aviation and the governor’s office for a state grant to build a passenger terminal, which is expected to cost $3.5 to $4 million and is required to be in place before the airline service can launch. The board wants to launch the service within the next year.
Yates said the airport also will have to provide money upfront for the airline, either by raising $2 million through a travel bank or offering a $2 million guarantee.
Schmidt and Yates said the travel bank is preferred and could be obtained by approaching local businesses to purchase subscriptions to the service. Schmidt said the minimum subscription would be $1,000 and would increase for businesses that travel frequently. As an incentive to subscribe to the service, businesses would have subscription fees reimbursed in full if they utilize the service. Flight costs would be reimbursed upon proof of travel until the amount of the subscription is fully repaid, he added.
“It’s not a donation,” Schmidt said.
The travel bank creates built-in business for the service because most businesses will want to get their money back if they purchase a subscription, he added.
Schmidt said the airline appears to prefer the travel bank method, too, but the guarantee would be needed if the airline rejects the concept. Schmidt said a guaranteed amount was raised for an airline service in Manhattan, Kan., to shore up shortfalls in its first few months of service, when it started turning a profit. The airline has since added several flights to Dallas Fort Worth and Chicago. Schmidt said the work in Kansas to promote the airport, which is located near Fort Riley, is an indicator smaller military markets can be successful.
And the local airport can be even more successful because Fort Knox is larger and the air service market in Elizabethtown dwarfs the market in Manhattan, Schmidt added.
The service would be geared toward military and business flights, Schmidt said, and he projected Fort Knox would have more than 100,000 air trips for trainees in 2012. Flying out of Elizabethtown would be easier and more affordable for the post, he added.
“We’re real confident” it will be successful, Schmidt said.
Marty Finley can be reached at (270) 505-1762 or firstname.lastname@example.org.