DOT Seeking Proposals to Jump-Start New Air Service

Now in its sixth year, the program has changed with the agency applying stricter criteria in making the grant awards.

Any community preparing a grant application needs to come to table with cash to match the federal dollars. Unlike some federal programs that mandate specific local contribution ratios, this one does not. The rules don’t provide any guidelines.

However, Boyd cautions that communities should not promise a local match via ticket banks or travel pledges. DOT has found that these promises to buy a specified number of tickets on a new carrier fail to fully materialize once an airline starts flying.

“Use of these words will send applications to the round file,” Boyd notes.

Few “outside-of-the-box” or “Hail Mary” ideas have been funded. And, those that have been funded have not yielded new air service, Boyd says.

“Some of the things they have granted they know will never come to fruition.”

DOT will entertain the submission of consortiums. But this year, the rules state that the proposal needs to be a single, workable plan, not a “collection of individual community requests.” In another change, a community cannot submit a separate grant application if it is a member of a consortium.

“Most of the consortium applications have never gone anywhere,” Boyd says. “The ones that have been granted for North Carolina, California and New Mexico are a waste of money. Studying whether you can support intrastate air service in California is very much like studying whether Newton was right or wrong. It doesn’t work.”

Last year several airports applied for grants to start their own ground handling operations as a way to lure new carriers. “It was the cause celeb. It didn’t work. They didn’t make any headway.”

Only Springfield's Abraham Lincoln Capital Airport was awarded money to establish a ground handling unit.

In the past, several airports won grants to upgrade their air service from turboprop to regional jet. Most of these awards were made before Northwest and Delta Air Lines filed bankruptcy and then subsequently scaled back the routes for their regional carriers. The 50-seat regional jet continues to be out of favor in the industry.

"I think DOT will shy away from these because some of them have not worked out," Boyd adds.

The grant applications need to be flexible. The DOT cautions that secondary goals should be included in the application in case the primary goal cannot be reached.

Boyd stresses that the DOT will “not allow any wiggle room.”

In the case of Durango, Colo., the community won a grant for air service to eastern cities. Delta was recruited to provide the service. The carrier provided service to its Salt Lake City hub with connections to the East. However, because Delta had to fly north to reach Salt Lake City, DOT disallowed the grant. “The community was defrauded on a technicality,” he says.

Delta has maintained the service because it is profitable without a subsidy.

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