Search begins again for passenger airline at Topeka Regional Airport
August 11, 2015
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  • The search for passenger service to and from Topeka Regional Airport resumes after the Metropolitan Topeka Airport Authority approved a contract with its longtime consultant, pending changes.
    The board, in a 3-1 vote, approved entering into a three-year contract with Sixel Consulting Group to seek nondaily passenger service for the airport. The board approved the agreement pending two changes to the contract: that language must be added to specify Sixel needs explicit approval from the board for individual services and the authority must be given a 30-day window to leave the contract. The authority has worked with Sixel for about eight years.

    Board member Mike Wilson was the only “No” vote. Since the contract isn’t time-sensitive, he said he wanted to make sure Sixel agreed to those changes. Tom Moses, Sam Carkhuff and Neil Dobler voted in favor of moving forward with the contract.
    Instead of charging a base fee, Sixel charges fees per service requested, which Moses described as an “a la carte menu.” For instance, if MTAA wanted the consultant to attend an air-service development conference touting Topeka, the fee is $3,000 for the first conference and $1,500 for each additional conference. The authority probably won’t use some services, like a market study and air-service development video — $10,000 apiece — according to authority president Eric Johnson.
    Additionally, Sixel would receive $2 per passenger on any new airline at the airport for a period of 12 months.
    “That’s really an incentive for them to produce results,” Johnson said.

    Problems retaining passenger air service have plagued the Topeka Regional Airport for about a decade. Starting in March 2006, Allegiant Air offered less-than-daily service from the airport, but that ended in July 2007. United Airlines flew twice-daily flights to Chicago from January through September of last year, but Topeka passengers filled only 49 percent of all the available seats on the flights.

    By the end of May 2014, the low number of passengers meant the MTAA burned through all $1.95 million it received from the state and federal governments for a revenue guarantee. United ended the service Sept. 2.

    Johnson said the service was “very unreliable.” He told the board he would like Sixel to find a service that takes passengers to vacation destinations like Las Vegas, Orlando or elsewhere once or twice a week.

    “We need to start small, see how it goes and build from there,” he said.

    Meanwhile, Saturday’s severe thunderstorm caused extensive damage to Topeka Regional Airport’s roof. A more than 80 mph wind gust tore several square feet of the “top-of-the-line, fully adhered” PVC top layer off of the roof. Rain then poured into a number of offices, a restroom and the vestibule of the terminal, Johnson said. Wind also blew a pair of doors on one side of the building off their hinges.

    “It was like a waterfall,” he said. “(The wind) really did some work.”

    That roof was replaced in 2012 for a cost of $326,000, he said. Johnson hoped to have an insurance agent look at the building this week, and temporary repairs already have been made.

    Also at the meeting, the board approved the 2016 budget, which includes an expected reduction in the mill levy. It relies on a 2.048 mill levy — down from this year’s mill levy of 2.053. Part of the decrease can be attributed to an about $40 million increase in Shawnee County’s assessed property valuations.

    MTAA requested $3,233,407 be levied in county taxes in 2016 to cover about $6,746,192 in expenses with the remainder coming from airport revenues.

    This mill levy is based on an estimate of the county’s property values. Final property values will come in November and the mill levy will be set based on those, said Cheryl Trobough, MTAA director of administration and finance, but as long as the board makes no changes to the proposed 2016 expenditures, the approved budget will stand.

    The Topeka Capital-Journal was the only media outlet at the meeting Tuesday.