Saturday, February 11, 2017

City, American Airlines reach deal on bigger planes

The Manhattan city government has accepted American Airlines’ offer of a larger airplane at Manhattan Regional Airport and will begin making security modifications.

The city announced the decision Friday in a news release.

ExpressJet Airlines, on behalf of American Airlines, will begin operating a CR7, a 65-seat plane, for the three daily Dallas flights, starting May 5. The current plane types have 44 and 50 seats.

Federal regulation requires additional security measures for any plane with more than 61 seats.

The federally-required security measures will require $347,000 in the short-term as well as $500,000 to $1 million in security-related salaries annually in the future.

The Manhattan City Commission will vote on short-term funding recommendations Tuesday during a special meeting.

City administrators recommend using money from the capital improvement program and economic development fund for the 2017 costs.

Starting with the 2018 budget, city administrators said property taxes, which fund the Riley County Police Department budget, and a transient guest tax, which is paid by visitors at area hotels, increase could fund the required personnel.

Deputy city manager Jason Hilgers said the commission has the authority to raise the guest tax an additional percentage point to 7 percent. He said each percentage point raises $250,000 in revenue. The increased personnel will include seven police officers, an airport supervisor, six full-time and six part-time employees to provide 24/7 security, which currently isn’t required. Earlier this week, commissioners spoke during a meeting about their concerns regarding the price tag and timeline. City manager Ron Fehr called American on Wednesday to inform the company that the city would need to postpone the issue because of the concern, according to a memo.

After further discussions, Fehr called American back at the end of the day Wednesday to ask if the door was still open. American officials called the city Thursday to let administrators know they needed an official answer that day. City administrators then accepted the offer.

According to Friday’s release, the CR7 planes will have more overhead and cargo space, an additional flight attendant, and Wi-Fi capabilities. The planes will accommodate larger group travel and provide 5- to 10-minute quicker inair flight times.

“The community has long had a desire to have larger aircraft for more legroom and luggage capacity, especially for Fort Riley troops,” airport director Jesse Romo said in the release. “We are excited to be able to accept the larger aircraft. There are challenges associated with the security improvements, but we’re taking steps to ensure the long-term viability of air service at MHK.”

In December, the airport opened the second phase of its terminal expansion project. American operates daily flights to Dallas and Chicago from the airport.


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