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Airline gives boost to Owensboro

OWENSBORO — Boosted by the arrival of a low-cost airline, Owensboro-Daviess County Regional Airport is on track to board 10,000 passengers this year for the first time in a decade.

Allegiant Air began twice-a-week regular flights between Owensboro and Orlando, Fla., last month, and so far the 150-seat planes have carried an average of 138 passengers on each flight, the Messenger-Inquirer of Owensboro reported.

Interim airport manager Bob Whitmer told his board that 965 people have already boarded the flights from Owensboro — more than one-third of the total passenger load here in 2004, the newspaper reported.

If Las Vegas-based Allegiant can average 111 people on the remaining 82 flights this year, the airport will board 10,000 passengers, Whitmer said.

And that would mean the Federal Aviation Administration will increase funding for capital projects at the airport from the current $150,000 level to $1 million, he said.

The Western Kentucky airport has had only six weeks of regular passenger service since March 2007. Great Lakes Airlines has had a contract for more than a year for commuter flights to a regional hub from Owensboro, but service has yet to begin.

The larger passenger loads on Allegiant planes have meant changes for the airport's secured waiting area. Whitmer said the airport has borrowed enough folding chairs from the city to provide seating for 130 people.

"But we lose those chairs at the end of May," he said. "We may try to get some chairs from the Executive Inn (which recently closed) when the city sells the hotel's inventory."

The airport also needs a larger emergency truck than it has now. Last month, the airport borrowed an Aircraft Rescue & Fire Fighting vehicle from the Paducah airport, but that airport needs the vehicle back, Whitmer said.

Daviess County Judge-Executive Reid Haire is trying to borrow a truck from the Wendell H. Ford Training Center in Muhlenberg County for several months, Whitmer said.

A new truck would cost $632,000, he said, and it's possible to get an FAA grant to pay for it.

But that will take months. A refurbished truck would cost $250,000, Whitmer said, but the FAA won't pay for any of that. A leased truck would cost $9,000 a month.

"Allegiant has no long-term commitment to us," Whitmer said. "That makes us very nervous about a major expenditure."

Whitmer said the airport hopes to make $50,000 this year from its new $5-a-day fee for overnight parking.

Most of the money will come from outside Daviess County, he said. So far, the airport is averaging 49 vehicles a day — 83.7 percent of them from outside the county.