Folks who live in the Stillwater area may not have to travel all the way to Will Rogers World Airport much longer: thanks to a federal grant from the Department of Transportation, Stillwater Regional may soon be able to provide commercial air service.
Stillwater has been chosen to receive $477-thousand dollars as part of the Small Community Air Service Development Grant. Within two years, that money must be used to create a commercial flight service or it will go to another community who can put it to use. We spoke with several small airports around the country who have received the grant before. While some were successful, others were not.
"Hub air service connects us to the global economy," says Gary Johnson, the director of Stillwater Regional Airport. He thinks his airport has a great chance of securing a contract. This is something he's been working on for more than ten years. "We're looking at hub air service from Stillwater direct to a major hub," he says. He hopes that hub will be Dallas Fort Worth, and he hopes the airline will be American Airlines. This grant money will allow the airport to compete for a contract with the flight company, market that service, and help with strategic planning.
"We did a business travel survey last year and we had well over one-thousand respondents, and most of them were businesses that operate here," says Johnson. He says all of the respondents were in favor of commercial service, so he feels confident Stillwater can secure and support a contract. "Our business and industry recruitment has been tremendous here at Stillwater with ASCO, FLEER, and Kicker," says Johnson. The business traveler is very cognizant of the time it takes to drive to Oklahoma City, or Tulsa or Wichita. It's going to save them time, and time is money," he says.
"We don't have access to revenues that much larger airports have," says Peter Vankuren, director of Manhattan Regional Airport in Kansas. His airport is former recipient of the grant. They used the money to market their new commercial air service and were successful, bumping their passenger retention rate from 19-percent to 25 percent within the two year period. "Folks get used to traveling two to three hours to larger airports because they're not aware that their own community airport provides the type of service that will benefit them," says Vankuren.
The Sarasota-Bradenton airport has experienced both success and failure with the grant. They've received the grant twice. The first time, they were able to successfully bring on an additional airline. But, the second time, they could not secure an additional carrier.
The Twin Falls airport has also succeeded with the grant, increasing its daily number of flights with the money.
Other airports we spoke with have not been successful yet, but still have a portion of their two-year period left to use the money, with hopes of being successful.
A portion of the money will be used to market Stillwater Regional's new commercial service, if successful. Johnson says they've visited Manhattan's airport and modeled Stillwater's plan for the grant money after Manhattan's. "We do feel strongly that we can support a scheduled air service out of Stillwater. We're in one of the fastest growing communities in Oklahoma," says Johnson. He hopes the money will be used to secure two daily commercial flights to Dallas Ft. Worth. He says it could take 12-months before the flights are available, depending on the airline's timeline.
A public private partnership is also contributing $3,365,00 to the fund to compete for a contract with American Airlines.