Elected leaders, economic development officials and community activists are confident they can attract commercial flights to Pikeville Regional Airport in a small town in the heart of the Appalachian Mountains. If they are successful in convincing an airline to serve the small town, Gov. Steve Beshear has pledged $1 million in coal severance revenue to help keep the flights in the air.
One can understand the eagerness of area residents to lure commercial air flights to Pikeville. The flights would immediately eliminate one of the biggest obstacles to development in the mountains: Its relative isolation from much larger cities in all direction. About the best Pikeville could hope for would be able to lure daily flights that would connect with flights in Knoxville, Charleston and possibly Cincinnati and Atlanta.
And the timing is less than ideal for convincing airlines to add flights. ComAir, the regional airline that was once called the “Delta Connection” recently ceased operation in part because company executives said the smaller airplanes that served small airports like Tri-State Airport and would fly in and out of Pikeville are inefficient and costly to operate. Such planes are being phased out throughout the country.
Thus, Pikeville is competing with scores of other small airports in its efforts to lure commercial air flights, and in this highly competitive industry, those small airports that already have commercial flights seem far more likely to keep those fights and expand their numbers than airports like Pikeville that have no commercial air service.
Beshear said if Pikeville is unsuccessful in getting commercial flights, Pikeville Regional Airport will get none of the severance tax funds. However, Pikeville already had been awarded a $750,000 federal grant to be used as a revenue guarantee to assist a carrier during the start-up phase.
Beshear said two airlines have expressed an interest. Expressing an interest and actually coming to Pikeville are two quite different things. While we see many advantages to having commercial flights in Pikeville, we also confess to being skeptical. At a time when many small airports are losing flights, the odds of a new flight to Pikeville seem quite long. We hope Pikeville leaders prove us wrong.