"I'll tell ya, we're looking at Memphis, we're looking at Atlanta, we're looking at Chicago specifically right now. Those three hubs, of course there's a whole array of airlines that serve those different hubs, but I guess the main focus is access to the national air transportation system for our community," says Bowling Green-Warren County Airport Manager Rob Barnett.
He is optimistic his facility will have commuter service by the end of next year. And the airport has a $500,000 federal grant to help get one.
"So we want to make sure that we marry the right airline, along with the right hub, to our community," says Barnett, "in order to provide accessibility throughout, you know, the United States or throughout the world if we're looking at one of the larger hubs."
But just an hour up I-65, Elizabethtown is hoping to have an announcement within the next couple of months.
Airport board consultant Luke Schmidt says they're currently in negotiations with four airlines. "So what we're doing now,"Schmidt says, "we're in significant discussions with one of those carriers. We've established a revenue guarantee strategy using our travel bank as a means to help bring that carrier in, and we're cautiously optimistic that at the end of the day that will happen."
That travel bank is a "pay now… fly later" plan for whoever wants to fly. "They make a minimum pledge of a thousand dollars," says Schmidt, "and the nice thing is, it's not a donation, it's not a contribution. They get their money back once service starts and once they use the service and fly in or out of Elizabethtown."
Schmidt says they're hoping their travel bank will generate $2-million up front to help attract an airline.
He also says Fort Knox is the single largest user of airline service in Kentucky, and it's the cornerstone of their quest to bring commuter service back to Elizabethtown.
E'town's airport board would like to bring commuter service back with three flights in and three flights out-a-day. And they're counting on the 15-to-17,000 people coming along with the soldiers being added to the human resources department at Fort Knox."
"When the base realignment process has been completed," Schmidt says, "there will be a net gain of almost 8,000 jobs. It's the number one, the largest economic development project in Kentucky's history. And of course there's going to be tremendous spin-off in the community, a large population growth. And when we put a brand new passenger terminal in where you can literally transit through the process in about ten minutes, park at the door for free, we're gonna have a lot to sell."
And airport board officials say all that stuff they have to sell will ripple through all 23 surrounding counties, from Adair and Clinton through Warren all the way to Muhlenberg County, making this part of Kentucky much more accessible to the global market.
Says Schmidt, "There's no question in my mind that A, the market already exists, and B, the market's only gonna get better and bigger and stronger going forward. So, what do they say, 'Failure is not an option?' We intend to get this done."
Schmidt says one of the four airlines they're talking to is way out ahead of the other three in negotiations, and they hope to know where they stand with that airline in the next couple of months.
Rob Barnett is the scheduled speaker at the Kiwanis Club luncheon this Wednesday, May 12. You can hear the latest in Bowling Green's attempt to attract a commuter airline then.