The fourth time was a charm Wednesday with announcement of a $390,000 federal grant to help launch nonstop air service between Springfield and Washington.
After a year of decline in flights and passengers, Abraham Lincoln Capitol Airport officials were ready for some good news.
"This was basically the first step, but it was a big step to overcome," said executive director Eric Frankl.
Frankl said the $390,000 grant, plus as much as $975,000 in local contributions, primarily from the Springfield Airport Authority, will go toward the cost of ground-handling equipment to support service to Dulles International Airport.
The number of flights, specific costs and starting dates must be negotiated with United Airlines.
"No one has this service in central Illinois, and to be able to provide service from our capital to Washington, D.C., would be a tremendous boost," Frankl said.
He said the local assistance will help cover startup costs for United, with the goal of eventually making the service self-supporting.
This was the fourth year in a row the airport had applied for a federal program to support service at small and mid-sized airports.
"It's very competitive," Frankl said.
Wednesday's announcement came through the office of U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin. In a statement, he said expanding air service is essential to tourism and economic development, especially after the opening of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.
"Visits to the museum and library are expected to increase substantially over the next several years, creating even greater demand for an expansion in air service to Springfield," Durbin said.
The Springfield airport lost two of four AmericanConnection flights to St. Louis in June after Trans States Airlines pulled out. Tennessee-based RegionsAir picked up the two remaining flights.
Loss of the flights contributed to a 12 percent drop in passenger boardings, to 72,535 through the end of June, compared to last year.
United Express provides five flights daily between Springfield and O'Hare International Airport in Chicago.
Frankl said the airport authority will pay most of the $975,000 in local contributions, but that there are discussions with the Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce on ways to raise money.
The Chamber's executive vice president, Bradley Warren, said loss of air service has been a concern for both local and prospective employers.
"Whenever we talk to employers, we always talk about access to Springfield," he said. "We all recognize that having a great airport is important to the story we tell."
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