Jan. 9 -- The U.S. Department of Transportation is again taking bids on air service to Owensboro and five other cities.
And Tim Bradshaw, manager of the Owensboro-Daviess County Regional Airport, is hoping for something better than the current two flights a day to St. Louis.
The transportation department is paying Tennessee-based RegionsAir $1.23 million a year to provide 12 flights a week to St. Louis on 19-seat planes.
For the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, the department says, Owensboro averaged 15 passengers a day -- about 40 percent of capacity.
That's up from 9.3 passengers a day in 2004, largely because of subsidies of up to 25 percent of ticket costs that the airport paid last year to attract more passengers.
The subsidies, which ended Oct. 1, came as a response to a warning from the transportation department that Owensboro was exceeding the $200 per passenger cap on subsidized air service.
And if that continued, the department said, the city could lose air service.
The problem, local officials contend, is American Airlines' St. Louis hub.
In 2005, when the subsidy came up for bids the last time, Owensboro Mayor Tom Watson, Daviess County Judge-Executive Reid Haire and airport officials sent a letter to the transportation department saying the community is "concerned about the viability of our connecting hub in St. Louis."
Since American Airlines reduced its number of flights in St. Louis from more than 400 a day to 207 in 2003, the letter said, "our enplanement numbers have dropped significantly."
Transportation department records show that 9,043 people boarded flights in Owensboro for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30.
That's up from 7,163 in 2005 and 5,527 in 2004.
But it's far below the peak of 31,532 in 1993, when Owensboro was served by both Northwest with flights to Memphis and American Eagle with flights to Nashville.
As recently as 2002, the city saw 14,864 passengers boarding flights here.
In 2005, four companies -- Phoenix-based Mesa Air Group; RegionsAir; Farmington, Mo.-based Multi-Aero Inc.; and Cheyenne, Wyo.-based Great Lakes Aviation -- submitted proposals for Owensboro service.
And local officials backed Mesa, which proposed flights to Chicago and Nashville.
Bradshaw said Monday that the city had never had more than one bid for service before 2005. And he's not sure what to expect this year.
The contract isn't just for Owensboro.
The bid includes Burlington, Iowa; Cape Girardeau, Mo.; Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.; Jackson, Tenn.; and Marion/Herrin, Ill.
In 2005, the transportation department decided to stay with RegionsAir because of its established connection with American Airlines.
Bradshaw said that might limit the number of companies vying for the contract this year.
Proposals are due by Feb. 1. The new contract takes effect June 1.
Bradshaw said once the proposals are submitted, he'll meet with city and county officials to get their reactions.
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