U.S. Sen. John Thune says he expects daily jet service to come to Aberdeen Regional Airport within the next six months.
He made that statement after announcing Thursday that Aberdeen would receive a $450,000 federal Small Community Air Service Development grant to help woo jet service from the airport's lone carrier, Twin Cities-based Northwest Airlines.
"Northwest has made it clear that if the grant came through, they would be agreeable to jet service in Aberdeen," said Thune, R-S.D. "The understanding with Northwest was that if we could sweeten the pot a little bit with the grant, they would follow through on their part. It's a win-win for Aberdeen and we have to give credit to the local leaders there for making it possible."
Thune said that he expects Northwest to provide at least one round-trip flight of jet service per day to Aberdeen Regional. And if the flying public supports that flight, more jet service could follow.
"I hope this is the start of regular, frequent jet service in Aberdeen," he said. "We had to get our foot in the door and this opens up the possibility of additional regional jet flights down the road."
Northwest was silent on its plans for Aberdeen on Thursday, issuing only this statement: "Northwest congratulates Aberdeen on receiving the ... grant. We look forward to working with the Aberdeen community on continuing to offer quality air service."
The airline is experiencing an employee strike at present and Thune said this could delay Northwest's response to Aberdeen getting the grant money.
But the senator said his office would step in, if needed, to speed up the process.
"We will ensure, if there's any slowness on (Northwest's) part, that the case is pressed for them to follow through on their promise," he said.
"Improving flight service to Aberdeen will strengthen the economy and create new jobs," Thune said.
Plans for the grant call for the money to be used to attract at least partial jet service by paying Northwest for unsold seats on any jet flight scheduled for Aberdeen Regional.
City Transportation Director Dave Osborn said the grant announcement is "very good news."
In numerous planning sessions, the airport board has said it would use the funds to entice Northwest Airlines to conduct at least one flight a day out of Aberdeen with a regional jet instead of the twin turboprop aircraft that are currently flown.
From this point, Osborn said he would likely get a meeting together with all of the major players in the grant process - the airport board, consultant Mark Siksel and others - to plan the next step.
Once that's done they'll take their plan to Northwest to request the service upgrade.
Mayor Mike Levsen congratulated Osborn and the airport board for the success of the grant application.
The Saab 340 prop-driven planes that Northwest currently uses at Aberdeen Regional only seat 34 people, and are far louder in the cabin than the regional jets, which seat 55.
Thune said most people would feel more comfortable flying out of Aberdeen on a jet.
"Having jet service will improve the probability that people are going to fly out of the airport," he said.
Earlier this month the city learned it will likely be losing one round-trip Saab flight each day at Aberdeen Regional as Northwest tries to cut its operating costs.
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, this year was especially competitive for the Small Community Air Service Development grant program, with more than 80 applications for 37 grants.
The grant program is funded by a 2005 Congressional appropriation of $20 million to encourage commercial air service in some of the nation's smaller communities.
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