Finding McKellar-Sipes Regional Airport on the list of facilities that might lose their federal Essential Air Service subsidies is not new territory for our airport. It is a struggle it has faced repeatedly in recent years. But with the economy improving and businesses expanding, now is not the time to cut commercial air service to Jackson. Economic development in our area needs every selling point it can muster. Losing commercial air service at McKellar would send the wrong message to business and industry.
We urge Rep. Stephen Fincher, Sen. Lamar Alexander and Sen. Bob Corker to go to bat for McKellar-Sipes at the federal level and secure at least a one-year extension so the airport and Seaport Airlines can continue to build ridership, and those involved in economic development can continue to use our commercial air service as a selling point.
Under regulations passed in 2012, certain Essential Air Service airports that are within 175 miles of a large airport were required to have daily ridership of 10 passengers per day. No one is certain where that number comes from. McKellar is operating at 7.8 passengers per day. That is a 246 percent increase from its previous commercial air service provider Tennessee Skies. We believe the airline and the community deserve continued opportunity to grow.
Commercial air service to a community is about more than just how many people get on an airplane each day. The community and the federal government have invested substantially in improvements at McKellar-Sipes. Businesses use the airport daily. Business and pleasure travelers also benefit from the convenience of local commercial air service.
But economic development and job creation are equally important. The improving economy means companies are moving and expanding. The industrial megasite in Haywood County also will attract companies to locate throughout West Tennessee. Some of those companies will factor air travel convenience into their consideration of where to locate. That could mean the loss of development to Memphis instead of the Jackson area.
We believe the growth of passenger traffic is a good indicator that commercial air service is important to our area of West Tennessee. When local economic development officials are working to attract jobs, every advantage they can add to reasons to locate in our area is important, and commercial air service is a valuable item to keep on the list.
TENNCARE MISERY METER
Gov. Bill Haslam’s, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey’s and the Tennessee General Assembly’s lack of urgency and failure to expand TennCare under the Affordable Care Act is bringing misery to an estimated 330,000 Tennesseans who won’t have health insurance, hospitals that risk financial stability and workers who could lose their jobs. It is costing Tennesseans an estimated $2.5 million per day. The loss to date is:$297,500,000