by STEVE LeMASTERSPORTS EDITOR
July 17, 2012
Julia Roberts Goad
PIKEVILLE, Ky. — Members of the community, business leaders and elected representatives met at a forum at the East Kentucky Expo Center to discuss plans for the Pike County Airport.
Those who spoke included Sen. Ray Jones, Reps. Leslie Combs and W. Keith Hall and Bill Hickman, Chairman of the Airport Authority.
Luke Schmidt of L.B. Schmidt and Associates, a consulting company, addressed forum to outline the project. L.B. Schmidt was hired by the City of Pikeville and the Eastern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce to study bringing commercial air service to Pike County.
“There have been many twists and turns along the way,” Schmidt said. “But there clearly is a market for scheduled air service here. It would service 13 counties, in Kentucky, Virginia and West Virginia.”
Schmidt said there were two goals needed to provide that service. The first is to recruit a regional airline that is linked to a major airline, and secondly to connect service in Pike County to a major hub such as Charlotte, N.C. or Atlanta.
Schmidt told the Court the best tool for recruiting an airline to Pike County would be a revenue guarantee package.
The concept is that some money is set aside in as the revenue guarantee fund.
An airline doing business in the county would set a financial goal for each month. If the company falls short, money from the revenue guarantee package would be used to bring the amount of money the airline makes up to the monthly goal. The money would be given to the airline on a monthly basis so the company would not incur financial losses during the first two years of operation.
Schmidt said the Airport Authority is in negotiations with two well known airlines, who decline to be named due to confidentiality agreements.
At Monday evening’s forum in Pikeville, those present showed overwhelming support for a regional airport.
Jared Arnett, Vice President of Operations at the East Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, said transportation is key to business.
“We started this because our members identified the lack of air service as a barrier to growth or recruiting businesses,” Arnett said. “A hundred years ago, the C&O Railroad came to Pikeville, and we have the Mountain Parkway, which opened us up to external markets in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Tennessee. But now things have changed, we need to appeal to a global economy.”
He said the region is losing business to other markets.
“We have the infrastructure, the industrial parks,” he said. “But we have no commercial air service, and without it, businesses will not come.”
Donovan Blackburn, Pikeville City Manager, said that according to studies done there are enough passengers to support the airport.
“In the counties we would serve in Kentucky, Virginia and West Virginia, there are 333 flying each day,” Blackburn said. “That’s 17 flights a day, the opportunity is here.”
Members of the community spoke at the forum about the difficulties of both personal and business travel.
Joel Thornbury owns a chain of pharmacies in the area and travels frequently for business.
“I spend about $15,000 or $20,000 a year in hotels and fees because I have to go to other airports,” Thornbury said. “That is money lost to our community. How many hotel stays are lost because we don’t have an airport?”
Danny Vanhoose with Appalachian Wireless said other companies’ executives have to drive from other airports, and it is an inconvenience.
“It’s a disconnect,” he said. “It’s like our representatives don’t understand what business needs.”
Rep. W. Keith Hall shared the frustration of doing business without commercial air service.
“I have been working with an Indian company,” Hall said. “We signed a 25-year contract with them, and I had to apologize to them for having to drive from Lexington. It is a deterrent to progress. This is a win-win for Pike County. We need to have vision, without vision, we perish.”
Dr. Samuel King is a Pike County native, a graduate of Belfry High School, Pikeville College and the UK School of Medicine, he has practiced in Pikeville for 29 years.
“The people we have here are visionaries,” he said, speaking to the panel at the forum. “We need to make things better. Apathy is an attitude, not an action. We need to continue to have vision, we need to be pro-active.