Saturday, January 31, 2015

Pull out of tailspin on airline dilemma: Kearney Regional Airport (KEAR), Nebraska

Kearney Hub Opinion

If commuter air service in Kearney could be in a worse situation, it is hard to imagine how. Reliability is iffy. Passenger traffic is in the toilet. The choice of companies that could replace the current carrier, Great Lakes, is dwindling as excessive federal requirements for pilot experience have decimated the commuter airline industry.

To understand how desperate the situation has become, consider the bet that Kearney leaders placed on an Ohio-based airline, Aerodynamics Inc. Municipal leaders here picked ADI to provide daily commuter flights to Denver and promised up to $500,000 to help with promotional efforts.

ADI has been skating on thin ice, having declared bankruptcy in 2013, and now is in danger of losing its federal permit for commuter and charter flights. Last week the federal Department of Transportation tentatively canceled ADI’s commuter and charter certificates, declaring the airline to be financially unfit because its president was guilty of defrauding $500,000 from another company.

ADI has replaced the offending executive, but it’s unknown whether the airline possesses the capital that FAA officials would like to see as an assurance that ADI can make good on its obligations to the communities it intends to serve. It’s entirely possible, after the required review period, that the DOT will make its temporary declaration against ADI permanent.

If ADI is dealt the death blow, Kearney could be adrift without a paddle — but wait.

What about Great Lakes?
Its balance sheet is strong, and the FAA has ordered Great Lakes to temporarily continue its service out of Kearney.

Why not put some energy into helping Great Lakes? How? Start by cutting out the negative talk. Each time a city leader says we have a lousy airline, potential passengers drive down the road.

Put money on the table. Great Lakes can’t lure passengers until it resolves its reliability issues. Rather than tossing $500,000 at a bad bet, consider how that money might help put pilots in Great Lakes’ cockpits. Spiffs for pilots, scholarships for pilot trainees at UNK — get outside the box and think creatively.

Ask questions. How do other airports succeed? 
Grand Island is boarding 60,000 passengers annually and will open a new $14 million terminal in early 2016. Why do other communities have airport authorities, and how are they boosting air service with the taxes and other revenues the authorities generate?

Finally, encourage businesses and industries to support Kearney’s airline. If executives and high level managers aren’t using the airline, we’ll surely lose it.

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