Cape council takes grant to promote air service

Monday, January 5, 2009

For the past two years, the Cape Girardeau Regional Airport's commercial passenger service suffered from grounded carriers and, more recently, an inconvenient schedule.

Thanks to a new state program -- and a promise of better service in 2009 -- airport director Bruce Loy hopes to see a turnaround this year. On Monday, the Cape Girardeau City Council approved accepting a $67,500 grant to advertise the service during the coming six months. The city will match the grant with $7,500.

Great Lakes Airlines began operating from Cape Girardeau Regional Airport in May. The third airline in less than two years to hold the city's contract under the federal Essential Air Services program, Great Lakes operates 19-seat Beechcraft airplanes with two scheduled flights each day.

Since 7,933 people boarded RegionsAir flights to St. Louis in 2006, the number of people using the airport as the starting point for a vacation or business trip has dropped dramatically. In 2007, when there was no service for more than six months after RegionsAir was grounded, 1,642 people boarded flights. From May through November, Great Lakes carried 389 passengers.

The low usage numbers, Loy said, are in part attributable to the schedule Great Lakes maintains with two flights each day. The morning flight takes off at 8:30 a.m. with an arrival in St. Louis at about 9:20 a.m. The second flight each day leaves at 6:15 p.m. and arrives in St. Louis at about 7 p.m. The result is that business passengers cannot make early connections from St. Louis to other cities and the evening flight is too late to make prime afternoon connections.

Great Lakes has promised a third round-trip each day, with an adjusted schedule, beginning in March, Loy said. "The intention is I have to accept the grant now but I won't use the majority of it until after we have three round trips," Loy said.

While the numbers may be low, Loy said Cape Girardeau is faring better than Jackson, Tenn., and Owensboro, Ky., two cities that were also awarded to Great Lakes last year during an emergency process to replace Big Sky. Those cities are still waiting for Great Lakes to begin flights, he said.

Along with the grant for promoting the airport, the council accepted a $212,040 grant as reimbursement from the state for a purchase of 60 acres near the airport in 2005, and approved annexing 43 acres adjacent to the airport owned by Mid America Hotels and 1.62 acres owned by NAB Automation at 126 Airport Road.

In other business:

* The council discussed a new state sales tax holiday but agreed without voting not to participate. The Show Me Green sales tax holiday, in effect for seven days beginning April 19, exempts the sale of Energy Star-labeled appliances costing less than $1,500 from state sales tax. The city would have to pass an ordinance by early March to participate. The city is struggling with lagging sales tax receipts and cannot afford a holiday, council members said. Mayor Jay Knudtson criticized state lawmakers for enacting the holiday and questioned efforts to enact a national tax holiday. "People are being awfully free with our livelihood," he said. "I don't see much appetite for participation."

* The council heard a report on a program begun in 2002 to rehabilitate homes and encourage homeownership in a two-block area bounded by Good Hope, Pacific, Bloomfield and Hanover streets. The city, using block grant funds, money from the East Missouri Action Agency, the United Way, city taxes and private lenders invested $1.2 million to renovate 22 homes and improve the streets and water lines serving the neighborhood.

* A $10,000 contract was approved with Grojean Architects to design a 695 square-foot information kiosk and restroom facility at Broadway and Main Street as part of the parking upgrade at that location.

rkeller@semissourian.com

388-3642

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