In a pivotal City Commission Meeting on Monday, commissioners weighed the endorsement of the Salina Airport Authority's request and the Salina Community Economic Development Organization Board of Directors' suggestion regarding the city's financial involvement in a proposed agreement with SkyWest Airlines. The focus of the agreement is the resumption of overnight flight scheduling for Denver flights.
Salina's commercial air service operates under the federal Essential Air Service Program approved by the United States Department of Transportation (USDOT), overseen locally by the Salina Airport Authority (SAA). This year, bids for the service were submitted on November 14th, with SkyWest and Boutique Air emerging as the two contenders.
On November 27th, the City Commission considered a recommendation from SAA's Executive Director, Tim Rogers, to express community support for SkyWest's application to the USDOT. The Mayor was authorized to submit the letter of support during that meeting.
Ongoing discussions between Rogers, SAA, and SkyWest revolved around incentivizing the airline to adjust its flight schedule to include overnight flights. This modification aims to accommodate late arrivals from Denver and early departures from Salina, enhancing travel options for business and leisure, increasing connecting flights, expanding destinations, and boosting enplanements at Salina Airport.
The City Commission previously approved a funding request on February 6, 2022, intending to encourage SkyWest to establish an overnight maintenance base in Salina. However, the project did not progress, and no funds were expended due to the absence of an executed agreement.
The current proposal suggests reallocating the previously earmarked funds to incentivize overnight flights. SCEDO has recommended that the City, County, and Airport Authority allocate funds as proposed, with the Saline County Commission set to consider this recommendation on December 12th.
Discussion during SCEDO deliberations included considerations for a funding agreement, distribution of funds over a 12-month period, and the possibility of tying flight schedule commitments to the three-year term of the EAS contract.
The City of Salina, allocating 3.9% of special sales tax proceeds to economic development, has an economic development fund balance. Annual commitments to SCEDO, Salina Downtown Inc., and the SDI facade grant program total $395,000, compared to a projected 2023 fund balance increase of $48,000. The current funding request involves $400,000 from the City, $400,000 from Saline County, and $100,000 from the Salina Airport Authority.
The motion to accept and concur with the SCEDO recommendation, reallocating $400,000 of Economic Development Funds, was approved 3-2, with Mayor Hoppock and Vice-Mayor Longbine dissenting.