Friday, December 15, 2017

Roanoke-Blacksburg Regional Airport (KROA) seeks $750,000 grant to expand flight options

Roanoke-Blacksburg Regional Airport has applied for a grant to cut the cost and time to fly west.

If they get the money, airport officials intend to recruit an airline to launch a new route between Roanoke and Dallas, Denver or Detroit, according to the grant application.

The federal Department of Transportation has $10 million and will issue grants to up to 40 communities. Applications were due Friday. The department hasn’t said when it will announce winners.

The grant program was started to help small airports get better service. Roanoke travelers currently are hamstrung by high fares and limited flight options. The average one-way fare out of Roanoke was $226, or 31 percent higher than the U.S. average, in early 2017.

In the airport’s primary service area, 38 percent of those who travel by air drive to other airports, officials said. The service area extends from north of Covington to Ferrum and from Thaxton to Fort Chiswell, the airport said.

The top alternative airport is near Charlotte, North Carolina, where the average fare was $194. The second most-used alternative for Roanoke area travelers is outside Greensboro, where the average fare was $203.

A lack of options for flying west is a major issue, but many people need to go that direction. When they do, they pay steep fares and spend hours traveling.

Tim Bradshaw, the airport executive director, said it takes three flights — and two stops — for Roanoke-based employees of Deschutes Brewery, based in Bend, Oregon, to fly to headquarters.

The airport has been seeking a remedy for years. This summer, American Airlines, which already operates locally as American Eagle, said it would consider starting service between Roanoke and Dallas Fort Worth International Airport. American Eagle currently flies from Roanoke to Charlotte, North Carolina; Philadelphia; and New York.

American wrote to the federal grants office at the Department of Transportation to endorse Roanoke’s application for a Small Community Air Service Development Program grant of $750,000. Roanoke is the only airport in Virginia to never receive an air service development grant, Bradshaw said.

Financial risks exist for the airline because a new route could lose money the first year, airport officials said. The airport would use its grant, airport funds and pledges by local businesses and government agencies to assemble nearly $1.9 million in benefits to limit risk. This would buy marketing of the new service and guarantee the airline a return, according to the application.

Airport officials said American could make money on service to Dallas after one year. About 20 people a day fly from Roanoke to Dallas, the airport said.

Airport officials said their other options are to dangle the benefit package before United, Southwest or Frontier airlines to get service to Denver or approach Delta Air Lines about linking Roanoke to Detroit.

Original article can be found here ➤ http://www.roanoke.com

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