Grand Forks Airport Seeks Northwest Subsidy

The Grand Forks Airport Authority is seeking up to $450,000 to subsidize Northwest Airlines' service to the area.

Most of the money would come from the federal government, with a local match potentially from the county, the city, the Grand Forks Region Economic Development Corp., and the airport authority itself.

Steve Johnson, the authority's executive director, said the subsidy would "buy down" ground handling expenses for the airline, such as luggage handling and ticketing. The subsidy, he said, would get the airport some leverage with Northwest in the never-ending quest for favorable flight schedules, ticket prices comparable to the competing airport in Fargo and guarantee of a certain number of seats available.

With the airline in bankruptcy and loss of passengers to Fargo and the Twin Cities, there has been growing concern among some community leaders about the continued viability of the airport. City Council President Hal Gershman already has suggested using sales taxes to subsidize air travel.

A federal grant would accomplish nearly the same thing, but mostly with someone else's money.

Initially, Johnson said in an e-mail to a county commissioner, the authority considered taking over ground handling for Northwest. But, he said, GFK Flight Support put in a bid for those services and the airport did not wish to compete with a private business.

The airport authority plans to apply for a $300,000 to $350,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation. The department doesn't specify a local match, but according to Johnson, the more the community comes up with, the better the chance of getting the grant.

That's why he's seeking a minimum of $75,000 and up to $100,000 from local governments.

Tuesday, the county commission committed $20,000, twice as much as the airport authority sought. The authority itself will contribute about the same amount.

Johnson said he's submitted requests for $30,000 to the City Council and $20,000 to the EDC.

The transportation department is expected to award the grant in August.

Grand Forks has applied for the grant before, but unsuccessfully, as part of a consortium of several North Dakota communities. The airports of Fargo and Bismarck have also applied in the past.

Grand Forks Herald

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