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Airport board coming with major request

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Editorial: Aug. 21, 2012

ISSUE: Commuter air service guarantee
OUR VIEW: Local government should not pay

Based on four reported visits by airline carriers, the bold predictions from February 2010 offered a promise of commuter air service flying out of Elizabethtown just around the bend.

In October, the statement made before a joint meeting of Elizabethtown City Council and the airport board was even more certain. The airport’s consultant said a deal would be done by the end of 2011, if not sooner.

The latest prediction about passenger service comes from the airport board chairman who expects a deal with one of two possible services by October or November.

We’ll see.

One key element of the deal: A two-year annual guarantee of $2 million.

That start-up assistance appears to be standard practice in today’s airline industry. The previous idea of an industry-supported “travel bank” providing a base for business apparently has been rejected and the airport board is looking for some deep pockets.

Its target: Hardin County governments.

When praising the virtues of local commuter air service, the airport’s information describes a 24-county market area. But when it goes looking for cash, that market is reduced to a single county.

The airport board should be congratulated for improvements that have come about because of the commuter air idea. Having a vision of expanded service has been quite beneficial to Addington Field Elizabethtown Regional Airport.

To meet federal and state guidelines, it has expanded its runway to 6,000 feet, upgraded its lighting system and installed an Instrument Landing System that improves the airport’s all-weather capability. A project to improve the airport’s ramp also is in the planning stage.

Artist renderings have been produced for an estimated $4 million passenger terminal that will provide modern travel comforts and required security measures. The airport board expects to find funding for that structure from other sources, but if the dollars collected fall short, expect local government to be asked again.

Research prepared on behalf of the airport offers compelling arguments for air service. It refers to a “potential annual enplanement market of 644,066 passengers.”

Much of its story reflects on development at Fort Knox brought about by the base realignment. It also touts Elizabethtown as the home of Akebono Brake’s North American headquarters, the soon-to-open Flex Films USA and other corporate citizens in need of commuter service. It boasts of recent national rankings that place the Elizabethtown Metropolitan Area including the area’s No. 1 standing in personal income growth and Gross Domestic Product.

But nothing in the plan justifies a potential $4 million outlay from local government to a private, for-profit airline.  That business ransom is unjustified.

The airport board’s vision lacks general community buy-in. For most local residents, this concept would be a nicety – an extra option for travelers but not something worthy of a government guarantee.

Commercial air service already is generally convenient. The Elizabethtown Industrial Foundation describes the distance as “just 42 miles to the north” on its website. Notice the word “just” which means some industrial leaders don’t see that as very far. And it’s even closer for the air service needs of Fort Knox.

Perhaps a better investment would be a ground shuttle dropping fliers at the doorway of Louisville International Airport.

If this project is as important to Fort Knox and the industrial community as the airport’s research indicates, then look for the money there.

Local government should opt out of this airline subsidy.

This editorial represents a consensus of The News-Enterprise’s editorial board.