Manhattan City Commissioners, Manhattan Regional Airport staff and the public engaged in a lengthy discussion on increasing airport security at the Manhattan Regional Airport to accommodate larger planes at the City Commission legislative meeting Tuesday evening.
ExpressJet Airlines notified the airport less than a month ago that they plan to begin operating a CR7 twice daily out of Manhattan. The new flight schedule will increase flight sizes on two routes from 50 seats to 65 seats while leaving one flight at 50 seats starting May 5, Jesse Romo, airport director, said.
Federal regulations from the Transportation Security Administration require regional airports to upgrade from a “supporting program” to a “complete program” when planes with more than 61 seats land at the airport. Upgrading the security at the airport could cost up to $1 million initially and an additional $500,000 to $1 million annually in personnel costs, Romo said.
City commissioners agreed that they wanted larger planes, but did not like the deadline of 90 days to implement security changes.
“We are being held hostage to time,” Manhattan Mayor Usha Reddi said. “We are on board with it, but very reluctantly.”
Reddi expressed her dislike of the short turnaround needed for a decision several times and said that other budgetary items like this would typically take a year before any action would be taken.
Part of the urgency in increasing security measures by May is if the airport delays, Manhattan may be de-prioritized in terms of airports that might get larger flights sooner, Romo said. However, as the smaller 30- and 50-seat planes that fly into Manhattan get older, they are being replaced with planes like the the larger CR7, which means the airport will eventually have to upgrade security.
City Airport Advisory Board member Richard Jankovich said during public comments that no matter how you look at the situation, sooner or later security at the airport will have to be addressed.
“Eventually we are going to get this anyway, which means that eventually we will have to do everything that is on this list,” Jankovich said. “If we decline now we will go to the bottom of the pile. There is potential of losing a flight.”
While the costs are high, Romo and Jankovich said the city would benefit from larger planes.
During his presentation, Romo said that the net benefit per year would be $54,060 in additional landing fees and $36,052 in Passenger Facility Charge program fees. The economic impact on the city could be large, although no specific number was given.
Larger planes benefit university
Kansas State Athletic Director John Currie spoke about how larger planes could benefit the university and city.
“This is America’s No. 1 college town,” Currie said. “We looked at other places and one of the things that we talk about all the time when we are recruiting coaches or athletes or professors is our airport.”
The larger planes would allow for more reliability and could permit larger groups, such as teams and church groups, to travel together.
“The airport is not a luxury,” Currie said. “It is a lifeline.”
K-State Athletics spends $300,000-400,000 a year with American Airlines and Currie said he encourages people in the program to fly out of Manhattan, even if it is more expensive, because he recognizes the importance of having the airport close by.
“The fare differential of going somewhere else isn’t worth it,” Currie said. “We need to support our deal here.”
The larger planes could also affect the future success of athletic teams at K-State.
“I can’t promise you, but bigger planes means bigger bodies, which means better teams,” Currie joked. “Right? But it certainly can’t hurt.”
Commissioners Michael Dodson, Karen McCulloh, Linda Morse and Wynn Butler and Mayor Reddi all expressed concerns about the price tag for the security updates and the time constraint but agreed to move ahead and get more information from Romo and city manager Ron Fehr.
“It’s now or never,” Reddi said. “I hope we look at all budgeting options. I don’t want to take anything off the table. I do think we need to look at collaborations with Geary County and Riley County. If it’s a true partnership and if it’s a true regional airport, we need to have them at the table.”