Victoria Airport Faces Loss of $850,000 in Federal Funds

Feb. 23 -- Victoria Regional Airport faces losing $850,000 in federal funds for the second year in a row because of declining ridership, prompting one official to warn that something needs to be done now about the problem.

"We're in exactly the same position today as we were in a year ago," County Judge Don Pozzi told the Victoria County Airport Commission on Thursday.

"What are we going to do?" he asked. "We absolutely have to do something to get enplanements up. Now is the time."

Each year Victoria needs to have 10,000 enplanements, or customers who depart the airport on Colgan Air and charter flights, to qualify for the funding.

Airport Manager Larry Blackwell said that funding is used for a variety of airport facility improvements. He said without that money, either projects don't get done or the airport has to draw money from its own limited budget, which relies on fuel sales, office rental and similar sources of income.

Blackwell said he is still working on trying to line up business and gambling charter flights in an effort to raise the number of enplanements. He also said the airport is conducting a television advertising campaign he hopes will help.

But Pozzi said those efforts haven't paid off yet and it would be a mistake to wait any longer before coming up with a solution.

"This is something that needs to be addressed at every airport commission meeting," he said. "That has got to be our No. 1 priority."

Blackwell said the airport was 600 enplanements short of the 10,000 figure last year. He said there were 646 enplanements in January, down 99 from the same period a year earlier. He blamed most of that on flights canceled in Houston because of the icy weather.

But Pozzi said the overall problem is much bigger than the weather. "This is nobody's fault except Continental Airlines."

He said last year a key factor in not being able to meet the enplanement requirement was a schedule change by Colgan Air resulting in the loss of the popular early morning flight from Victoria to Houston. Colgan provides flights under Continental Airline's Continental Connection banner.

A spokesperson at Continental Airlines corporate communications office said no one was immediately available for a comment.

In other business, airport commissioners were unable to agree on a selection committee's recommendation for a consulting engineer to oversee general airport improvements. Blackwell said that includes such improvements as drainage and paving.

The selection committee recommended Louisiana-based Alliance Inc., with Urban Engineering of Victoria as the alternate should the Federal Aviation Commission deem Alliance's prices too high.

No one on the airport commission would make a motion on the recommendation, prompting chairman S.F. "Trey" Ruschhaupt to appoint a new committee and start from scratch.

County Commissioner Gary Burns, who served on the original selection committee, said he didn't support the group's recommendation. He said he wanted to select a local company, such as Urban Engineering.

"Urban has taken care of everything we've ever needed," he said. "They've got at least 18 years experience with our airport."

Burns said he was concerned that a large company based in Louisiana wouldn't have the ability Urban does to work with the airport. He said he feared communications problems with Alliance and being able to get prompt service.

"I want a firm where we are one of the most important clients, not just a speck," Burns said.

Once the airport commission makes a recommendation, it goes to the Victoria County Commissioners Court for final approval.

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