It is often said that the Owensboro area is one of the best-kept secrets in this part of the country. Interstate 165 and new flight options via Cape Air through the Owensboro-Daviess County Regional Airport have given more access to people wanting to experience the region.
This was especially true prior to COVID-19, said Daviess County Judge-Executive Al Mattingly.
“We felt good in the beginning that we were making continued progress on upgrading the options for our citizens,” he said. “I don’t know how the COVID-19 pandemic will affect our progress, because with the pandemic comes a reduction in traffic, which means a reduction in gas tax revenue. As far as furthering our reach via roads, those losses in revenue could adversely impact our roads budget.”
Locally, the Daviess Fiscal Court has reduced its own internal roads budget in anticipation of the impacts of COVID-19, Mattingly said.
“As far as the court is concerned, we have reduced a bit of our paving budget because of potential impacts to rural and secondary roads money being reduced,” he said. “We will hopefully be able to pave 25 miles of road this year against an average 35 miles.”
With regard to the impacts of I-165 prior to COVID-19, Mattingly believes that the larger projects that have opened up the region were working the way they were supposed to and will again when once the area is through the pandemic, he said.
“We are going to continue our own local roads projects to ensure they are the best they can be for our citizens and those coming to our community,” he said. “We have seen an uptick prior to COVID of people coming to Owensboro-Daviess County that has aided in our long-term expansion and revenue. I can tell you that over the six months prior to shutdowns that I was seeing more and more personal and commercial traffic, and I believe that will continue and it will have the desired effect that we all wanted it to.”
The airport has also made tremendous strides in widening the reach of the citizens of the region and opening the community up to a bevy of new travelers under the leadership of airport Executive Director Rob Barnett.
In July 2019, the airport’s board of directors voted unanimously to recommend that Cape Air remain the region’s Essential Air Service provider with a new two-year contract that the Department of Transportation later approved.
Aside from offering a new plane from the airline’s fleet, Cape Air managed to beat out Air Choice One, Boutique Air and Southern Airways for the contract by opening up flights to Nashville and guaranteeing $50,000 in marketing dollars. Another major feather in the airline’s cap is its long-standing relationship with the community, Barnett said.
Even in the face of the pandemic, the airport and its staff have continued to carry out the major pieces of its Airport Master Plan, and while flights were temporarily halted, the work being done to improve critical airport infrastructure never stopped. A major benefit to this was more than $1 million that the airport received in Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding through U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell.
While infrastructure is important, the fact that flights are returning to Owensboro shows that the aviation world — at least in some areas — is starting to stabilize, Barnett said.
“Our flights are good,” he said. “We are on schedule and back to normal in that regard. Cape Air as well as Allegiant are back on schedule. We are seeing steady increases in passengers flying with Cape Air to St. Louis and Nashville, and our Allegiant flights are being utilized more and more. Here at the airport we are doing deep cleanings regularly and taking great strides to ensure that our passengers and staff are as safe as possible. Cape Air and Allegiant have also taken steps to increase passenger comfort and safety with Cape Air providing recommendations like masks, and Allegiant providing safety kits to passengers. We are seeing increased in commercial, military and general aviation as well, so things are showing positive signs.”
A major boon that occurred during the pandemic is that the airport, through its Essential Air Services with Cape Air that opened new routes to Nashville, also saw the delivery of its new Tecnam P2012 Travellers, which are nine-passenger aircraft, that will take airport patrons back and forth from Nashville and St. Louis, Barnett said.
“We couldn’t be more pleased,” he said. “It is an extraordinary piece of equipment. It arrived on the last flight of the day on June 23 and now is in full operation for our Nashville and St. Louis flights. These aircraft are manufactured in Italy, so when COVID-19 hit, its delivery and manufacturing were delayed, but now it is here. The features available with the new aircraft are great. It is quieter, the ride is smoother and there are new amenities such as cell phone chargers to allow passengers to do what they need to do.”
Jacob Mulliken, 270-228-2837, email@example.com