At a special meeting held on Tuesday, the Owensboro-Daviess County Regional Airport Board of Directors voted unanimously to recommend Cape Air remain the area's EAS (Essential Air Service) provider.

"We wanted to be thorough and give all of those airlines that presented a fair hearing," Board Chairman Ed Riney said. "That is what we did. We feel comfortable with recommending to the DOT (Department of Transportation) that we continue on with Cape Air with the caveat that they add Nashville as a destination."

Aside from opening up Nashville as a new destination in addition to St. Louis, Cape Air's new two-year contract, if approved by the DOT, also guarantees the use of their new fleet of twin-engine Tecnam P2012 Travellers, nine-passenger aircraft, one of the many perks that set them aside from Air Choice One, Boutique Air and Southern Airways for the coveted contract, said airport Director Rob Barnett.

"There were options from the other airliners that offered Chicago and Atlanta as possibilities," he said. "We looked at Atlanta, we looked at Chicago, but we also looked at equipment, dependability and we looked at subsidy. When you look at Chicago, you look at the connectivity. I didn't see a positive connectivity in Chicago with the options we had. No one wants to check their bags twice, and no one wants to rescreen through TSA twice. Atlanta, same thing. There has to be interline connectivity. You cannot expect a traveler to want to recheck bags every time they travel two or three times. That is an asset we want our airline to have, and Cape Air makes it seamless."

For Barnett, connectivity was the crucial aspect of maintaining a relationship with Cape Air, especially as their new contract will open the gates to a larger hub.

"The thing that we have to remember is connectivity is imperative for the traveling customer experience," he said. "By recommending Cape Air, we have just added many destinations in that Nashville market. Maybe Nashville isn't your destination, maybe it is your connection, and now you have 40 more options to choose from. Having two different hubs is a huge asset to this community. Whether you connect through Southwest, American, Delta or Alaska; Cape Air can help you with all of the major airline brands."

Given that EAS airlines are subsidized by the DOT, making a recommendation that is palatable to the department and fiscally responsible was also a major aspect of the board's decision, said board member Mickey Bowmen.

"There was a lot of interest in Chicago and Atlanta," he said. "The problem was that the bulk of those were about $1 million more expensive to the DOT, and I think being fiscally responsible is as important as being commercially responsible sometimes. In the grand scheme of things, when you look at what is out there, what was chosen is going to be the best option financially for Owensboro and in terms of options for our travelers."

With a guarantee of $50,000 in marketing, a history with Owensboro, new planes and a total of 10,557 Owensboro-based passengers last year, why not go with a four-year contract as opposed to the new two-year? Airport officials want to keep their options open, Barnett said.

"We want to continue growing these markets, and we want to look at other markets and destinations," he said. "We are doing an Air Service Analysis True Market Study and we want to be able to look at these two markets in two years and be able to say, 'OK, is this what we want to continue to do? Is this the type of aircraft that want to continue to use? What is the subsidy doing? What is the routership doing?' It is a shorter commitment on our behalf, but it will give us better options in a shorter period of time as well. Ultimately, it gives us flexibility; we want to keep our options open."

The board has to provide the DOT with their recommendation no later than July 17, and the department will make its decision within 30 days, he said.

"I feel good," he said. "I feel really good about the decision. I know everyone will not agree with it; I hope the community understands the connectivity factor. If they have ever flown into an airport where they had to resecreen their bags and go through all of that again, they will understand that negative experience and they never forget it. Hopefully, they can understand why we picked Nashville. Sure you can be there in two hours in your car, but what does it cost you to park the car and leave it? Plus your tickets and getting back home? When you look at that you have to think, 'I could have flown from my hometown at a lower price and have already been there.' I think it is the right decision at the right time for Cape Air to remain in the community."

Jacob Mulliken, 270-228-2837, jmulliken@messenger-inquirer.com

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