Bringing passenger flights back to Salem won’t be cheap, city report says

Seats in the passenger terminal at the Salem Municipal Airport (Troy Brynelson/Salem Reporter)

Getting Salem’s airport ready for commercial passenger flights will cost the city millions, with any payoff from increased revenue likely years down the road.

That’s according to a report from airport manager John Paskell due to be presented to the Salem City Council this week.

Paskell presented the report to the city’s airport advisory commission during a July 20 meeting, outlining the equipment and staffing needed to get commercial flights back to Salem.

The needs include one-time costs like renovating the terminal to accommodate more passengers, and buying equipment like a passenger board ramp and luggage cart to service planes. A terminal renovation would cost about $3.9 million, the report said, while equipment would be about $550,000.

They also include ongoing operating costs, including a required police and fire presence at the airport, and nearly doubling the size of the airport’s current staff. Paskell estimated adding airport employees needed to support flights would cost about $530,000 per year, and fire and police staffing another $358,000.

“Those are costs that we have to absorb in advance of an air carrier showing up here,” Paskell said during the committee meeting. “We have to recruit and train people and start paying them before we receive any revenue.”

A contingent of local business owners and residents called Fly Salem have been seeking to restore airline service to the city since 2017 and recently worked with the city to apply for a federal grant to offer airlines a minimum revenue guarantee. The city is still waiting to hear back.

The city owns the Salem Municipal Airport, but the airport covers its operating costs through fees charged to those who use it and doesn’t rely on money from the city’s general fund to operate. Salem stands to increase airport revenue if commercial flights are restored, Paskell said. He estimated those increases at $80,000 to $150,000 per year for the first two years, and $250,000 to $400,000 after.

The city received a state grant for $540,388 to cover the cost of purchasing required equipment for the service earlier this year. Airport commissioners said last week they’re supportive of continuing the effort to restore air service to Salem and looking for additional funding sources to help cover some of the costs.

Paskell will present an update on the effort to the city council during a July 28 policy meeting. Any decision to spend money toward the airport effort would require a council vote at a later date.

-Rachel Alexander