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Federal Air-Service Grant Program Sees Some Worthy Applicants in 2010

It's Small Community Air Service Development (SCASD) week here on BNET again, and this year we've got a rich crop of applicants. In general, it's more of the same old ideas, but there are a couple of different ideas here (including Biloxi, which says it needs help because of the oil spill in the Gulf). As I've done in 2008 and 2009, this year I'll be highlighting the high and lowlights for your reading pleasure.

The SCASD program was designed to provide grants to small airports looking to grow air service or lower fares. Unlike the Essential Air Service program, which just endlessly funnels subsidies into bottomless pits of money-losing routes, the SCASD program actually can help successfully develop sustainable service over a shorter period of time and has done so before.

One of the bigger SCASD successes was in Santa Rosa, Calif., located in Sonoma County north of San Francisco. The airport had lost all service and obtained a grant to help provide a revenue subsidy for Horizon Air to start service. Today, the subsidy is gone, but Horizon is able to maintain flights to LA, Las Vegas, Portland, and Seattle on its own. It never would have even tried to go into this market without some financial assistance in the first place. And this year, Horizon looks to be targeting San Jose, but I'll talk about that in a later post.

But let's not get too excited here. While there are some successes, there are a lot more failures. I suppose that's bound to happen, but hopefully the feds will learn from their mistakes and try to shift how they award grants every year. We can only hope.

There are some applications that look interesting to me this year for sure. For example, I like the Auburn-Lewiston airport's request for $500,000 to bring in service for the first time in 20 years. Without historical data, it's hard for airlines to really know if something will work. Auburn-Lewiston has done the research, thinks there is a need, and wants to prove it by putting some money out there. Fair enough.

There's also St George, Utah's request for $550,000 to get more air service now that its new airport with a runway long enough for a jet will be opening. The current airport can only support small props. But after doing the market research (with a previous SCASD grant), it thinks it needs money to woo an airline to give it a shot.

I also like Shenandoah Valley's efforts to get $150,000 to further its marketing efforts to draw travelers to its flights. I usually don't like these types of applications, but these guys actually have shown that marketing can move the needle for them. When you have the proof, it seems worthwhile to continue the effort, right?

Tomorrow, I'll look at the applications I like the least, and then I'll go in-depth on a couple other proposals later on this week because, well, they're just really interesting and deserve more focus.


Photo via Flickr user runJMrun/CC 2.0
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