UPDATE 11/6/13 @ 3:30 p.m.
PIKEVILLE, Ky. (WSAZ) -- Scheduled commercial air service is now a reality in Pike County, Ky.
A ceremony formally announcing the air service was held Wednesday afternoon at the airport.
Beginning on March 3, 2014, Appalachian Air will provide one daily roundtrip flight between Pikeville-Pike County Regional Airport (PBX) and Nashville International Airport (BNA).
Upon arrival at BNA, passengers will be able to connect to any of the nine airlines which currently serve BNA with nonstop service to 50 major destinations throughout the United States, Canada and Mexico, according to a news release from Gov. Steve Beshear.
The aircraft which will be used for the flights, a jetstream J32, was also unveiled at the airport ceremony.
Donovan Blackburn, Pikeville City Manager, believes the air service will serve as a catalyst for continued growth in Pike County and Pikeville.
"The development of passenger air service has been a long held goal of the Pikeville community," said Blackburn. "In fact, one can go back as far as 1968 to see when this issue was first discussed."
"Scheduled passenger air service will open new opportunities for much of Eastern Kentucky," said Gov. Beshear. "What has historically been one of the more difficult regions of the Commonwealth to reach will now be less than an hour and a half flying time from connecting to the global air system in Nashville."
"As we face a new era in eastern Kentucky and work to expand our industrial portfolio, this commercial air service launches us into the competitive market," said Congressman Hal Rogers. "With new economic challenges ahead, we have to access greater opportunities, embrace new technology and create innovative strategies to shape our future, and this air service will provide unprecedented access to this important energy producing region."
"Today's announcement marks a major step forward for our region, and I am confident that this dedicated service will be widely used," said House Speaker Greg Stumbo. "This will go a long way in helping us lure more companies to the mountains."
Passengers boarding flights in Pikeville will undergo security screening and upon arrival in Nashville will deplane at a gate in the main terminal in a sterile area. Passengers will not have to go through any additional security screening in Nashville.
Tuesday night, the Fiscal Court unanimously approved a resolution supporting commercial air service, but that same resolution also raised some questions about some of the points in the commercial air contracts.
The resolution says while the court voted to request $1 million of coal severance money for the project, they were left out of any discussions between the City of Pikeville, the Airport Board, and Public Charters--the company contracted for the flights.
The resolution also states the court has reservations about using Public Charters because the company does not own or operate the airplanes that would be in service.
Officials behind the contracts say while they respect the fiscal courts questions, they stand behind the decisions they have made.
"We're trying to cast a vision of hope and growth in Eastern Kentucky at a time when many people don't feel that or see that with the changes in the mining industry, but our job is to find ways to create new jobs and we believe this is an important piece of it," said Jared Arnett, President of the Southeast Kentucky Chamber of Commerce.
Judge Executive Wayne T. Rutherford released a written statement Wednesday stating the resolution speaks for itself in reiterating support for commercial air service while raising serious concerns.
Chamber officials say they do plan to discuss some of those issues with the Fiscal Court in the coming days, and they say this resolution will not delay or prevent commercial air service from coming to the area.
Officials say all plans are still in place to begin daily roundtrip service to Nashville International Airport next March.
On Friday, the Pikeville City Commission and the Pike County Regional Airport board approved two contracts that will bring commercial air service to thePikeville-Pike County Regional Airport.
Starting in March, daily round trip flights between Nashville International Airport and Pikeville will start. The flight will be operated by Public Charters.
Officials are planning a formal ceremony for October 17th. The aircraft and its local brand name will be unveiled at the ceremony.
"This is not only providing service but also opening ourselves up to the rest of the world for trade and working on a way to diversify our economy," explains Pikeville City Manager Donovan Blackburn. "With the war on coal, we are losing jobs. We have to find a way to open ourselves up and make the area more enticing."
Officials say none of this would have been possible without the help of Congressman Hal Rogers and support from the community which allowed them to receive a $750,000 federal grant.
Blackburn says, "Over 200 businesses worked with the chamber to write letters, the power of business...asking for the service, writing about what it would mean to their businesses. We had more letters submitted for that federal grant than any other community in the entire nation."
Officials say it is a risk, "Will it work? We don't know, but if we don't try it shame on us because our community deserves quality healthcare, a quality education, an expo center for good entertainment, and quality services such as commercial air," says Blackburn.
However, it is a risk officials say they are willing to take to help improve the region.
“So far, two airlines have expressed interest in serving PBX,” said Gov. Beshear.
Pikeville’s elected officials, along with the Pikeville-Pike County Airport Board and the Southeast Kentucky Chamber of Commerce have been spearheading efforts to develop scheduled passenger airline service at the Pikeville field for more than two years.
The grant will be awarded once an airline is selected to provide the public service. The proceeds of the grant will be matched with a $750,000 federal grant that the city of Pikeville received last year, and will be used as part of the project’s revenue guarantee program to assist a carrier in reaching sustainability during the start-up phase of service.
“Our city appreciates the support of Governor Beshear and the Commonwealth,” said Pikeville Mayor Pro-Tem Jimmy Carter. “New airline service at PBX will help us to create new jobs in the coalfield.”
“The Commonwealth has been a wonderful partner at PBX ever since the field first opened in 1983,” said Bill Hickman, Chairman of the Pikeville – Pike County Airport Board. “This is yet another confirmation of this partnership as the airport continues to grow and serve the community.”
“New airline service at PBX will make it much easier for our business and professional community to compete in the global economy,” said Jared Arnett, president and CEO of the Southeast Kentucky Chamber of Commerce. “This grant helps us get closer to our goal of securing service.”
The funds will be used to complete the second phase of taxiway construction. Completion of the parallel taxiway will eliminate the need for planes to taxi on the runway.
Pike County Judge-Executive Wayne T. Rutherford says the work should help the airport qualify for commercial air service.
The 5-2 vote was taken during Tuesday’s Fiscal court meeting.
Last month, Southeast Kentucky Chamber of Commerce officials said significant progress has been made recruiting two national carriers interested in providing service out of the Pikeville-Pike County Airport.
Officials said they were worried about losing a $750,000 grant from multi-county coal severance funds without a resolution of support from the Pike County Fiscal Court.
Southeast Kentucky Chamber of Commerce officials say significant progress has been made recruiting two national carriers interested in providing service out of the Pikeville-Pike County Airport.
Officials say they are worried about losing a $750,000 grant without a resolution of support from the Pike County Fiscal Court.
The next fiscal court meeting is Tuesday.
It's not known if the issue will be discussed.
A resolution needed for funding was tabled at the Pike County Fiscal Court meeting Monday.
The Pike County Airport Board wants to use multi-county coal severance funds to further the project.
Others in county government say more time is needed to decide if that is the best option.
“Yes we are 100 percent for commercial air service and we'll do anything we can. The question is, where the funding comes,” Pike County Judge Executive Wayne T. Rutherford said.
Another meeting will be held next week about the proposal.
The plan is expected to be presented to the Knott County Fiscal Court Tuesday.
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The U.S. Transportation Department says the funds will be used to provide a revenue guarantee to set up the city's first scheduled air service. An additional $1.8 million will come from public and private sector partners, the agency says.
The city is one of 29 across the country receiving a total of $15 million from the Transportation Department's Small Community Air Service Development Program.
The City of Pikeville and the Pikeville-Pike County Airport Board has pursued a commercial airline for the past four years. Now, officials say one might be on the way.
City manager Donovan Blackburn says, "A service has issued a commitment letter that states if we can acquire funding, then they would pursue providing service to the airport."
The city of Pikeville applied for a federal small community air service development grant.
Blackburn says the proposal is two flights per day on a 20 passenger plane to a city hub.
"Without commercial air service, you're kind of in a hindrance to gaining manufacturing plants and other industry to relocate here. If you have the ability to fly people in and out here locally, it will certainly help us with the economic development," said Danny VanHoose, Southeast Kentucky Chamber of Commerce Vice-Chairman.
Southeast Kentucky Chamber of Commerce leaders are asking people to send letters to Washington in support of Pikeville receiving the grant.