Salina Regional Airport to Add Daily Non-Stop Flight to Houston
the Saline County Council of Commissioners on Tuesday accepted a grant application from the Salina Airport Authority that could turn out to be huge to help Salina’s economy emerge from the pandemic.
The airport will sign a one-year agreement with SkyWest Airlines to schedule non-stop jet service to Houston, Texas, starting September 1.
With the commission’s approval, the county will grant the airport authority $ 1.64 million to reimburse SkyWest for any shortfall from September 1 to August 31, 2022.
The funding comes from the more than $ 10 million that the County of Saline received from the federal government with the passage of the American Rescue Plan Act March 11 of this year.
County administrator Philip Smith-Hanes added in his weekly update that the first half of that money was deposited into the county’s bank account last night.
The agreement provides for a third daily round trip flight to the Salina Regional Airport, providing access to the George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) and the fourth largest city in the United States.
Benefits of the Agreement
Commissioner Bob Vidricksen, who is the county’s liaison with the airport authority, said it had been at least three years, with the help of Gary Foss of the Arkstar Group, an airline consultancy firm.
Foss brought SkyWest to Salina and was instrumental in organizing the airport’s partnership with Denver and Chicago airports.
“It’s an opportunity for the county commission to take the lead as Mr (Tim) Rogers said, and for us to really jump on it, I think it’s the right thing to do right now,” Vidricksen said.
The immediate benefits of Salina’s connection to Houston include the 25 new markets IAH can reach in Texas and Louisiana, 26 international markets, and improved access to 13 markets in Florida.
The airport authority has identified Houston as the best location for a third flight through a feasibility study.
In addition, the high load factors give the group more confidence in the potential success that the new service can produce.
“This really gives us the indication that any shortfall will be minimal, especially as we plan to start in the fall-September just before the peak holiday hours, Thanksgiving and Christmas,” the authority said. airport. Executive Director Tim Rogers.
According to Rogers, the main reason for the demand was to stimulate Salina’s economy as the pandemic continues to gradually abate.
Travel declined by up to 60% in parts of the country and locally last year compared to 2019, so adding an additional flight to increased services in recent weeks is helping local travel, tourism and industries. of the hotel industry.
The 953 passengers on Salina flights over the past week show that travel is increasing and demand has increased.
Rogers called the deal a “unique opportunity to gain a real competitive advantage” for the recovery of the local community.
“It also really helps facilitate business recruitment, business retention, and overall quality of life,” Rogers said.
The project adds to the airport’s expansion plans, which also include spending $ 350,000 to increase the seating capacity in the lobby from 41 to 160, which is enough for two simultaneous and full departures United / SkyWest.
The airport has already signed a contract to begin work on installing new HVAC systems, electrical outlets and furniture, among other upgrades.
Rogers added that they had pledged to spend $ 125,000 in marketing funds.
Salina Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Eric Brown and Mitch Robinson, Executive Director of the Salina Community Economic Development Corporation, both expressed support.
“One of the things Mr. Rogers talked about was post-secondary colleges and students,” Brown said. “Specifically, Kansas Wesleyan University has a large group of students from Texas, Arizona, and California; this makes it easier for them and their families to travel to Salina and also to be part of this community.
Brown added that it was important not to miss the opportunity to be a part of the growing trend of ‘revenge travel’ as people seek to spend time away from home and places open up. new.
The Council of Commissioners unanimously approved the grant application, but not without questions and preliminary reservations.
Commissioner Jim Weese asked if the full grant funding would be needed for the next deal. Rogers responded by saying it probably wouldn’t be necessary and that the airport authority will soon have to draft an agreement between them and the county to determine what to do with any deferral of funding.
President Rodger Sparks discussed some of the negative consequences of the deal, including the fact that the county will not receive tax money from people coming to Salina, staying in hotels and spending money on local businesses.
Ultimately, he concluded that it was “amazing” to eventually help the community and region of north-central Kansas grow with all the round-trip flights available.
The commission approved a $ 4,500 Make a Difference grant from Salina Area United Way to be sent to the senior services department. Director Rosie Walter said the money will be used to provide OCCK transportation services to homebound seniors who participate in Meals on Wheels.
“The idea behind it was, because of COVID, my population for meals on wheels has increased dramatically,” Walter said. “I try to inspire them to come out and come back to the senior center. ”
With the help of OCCK, seniors will be able to leave and return home safely. Walter added that if bus passes are needed, she can provide them with a one-month pass to go anywhere needed.
Finally, the commission approved the sale of a 2,000 gallon tanker truck from Rural Fire District # 5 to # 3 valued at $ 22,000, and memoranda of understanding for surrounding jurisdictions. such as Ellsworth, Marion and Ottawa County Sheriff’s Offices to schedule Saline County’s new radio stations as part of the new emergency communications system on their own radios.