City leaders remain hopeful air service to the Salem Municipal Airport will begin in August, but said they’re now waiting on an announcement from the airline to select the start date.
Construction is still underway and expected to be completed by the end of May with the Transportation Security Administration expected to install its equipment by mid-June.
No official start date has been announced as of Tuesday and the airline is still unnamed, part of a non-disclosure agreement between the company and the city.
Despite talk of a spring or early summer start date, the city expects air service to start on August 1 at the earliest, though the airline could decide to start in the fall.
The city has not received signed contracts back from the airline as of May 9, according to city spokesman Trevor Smith.
The city council approved the contracts during an April 10 meeting, where Mayor Chris Hoy reaffirmed his hope that flights would start by July.
Airport Manager John Paskell said in an email to Salem Reporter on May 3 that the airline won’t announce a start date until they are certain construction and federal approval will be ready in time to launch.
“The best I can tell you at this time is that it is likely to start sometime this summer. But there’s no date-certain as of yet,” Paskell said.
The airport last saw commercial service in 2008, when Delta Air Lines left after a year and a half of service due to the impact of the recession on the industry.
To bring an airline back to the state capital, the city needed to make improvements to the passenger terminal building, add police, fire and airport staffing and develop a new airport security program to meet federal standards.
City Manager Keith Stahley provided an update during Monday’s city council meeting, and spoke about airport plans earlier that day with Salem Reporter.
Of newly added positions, the airport has hired a maintenance and security operator, and is still in the process of hiring another security operator, an administrative analyst, security manager and a security specialist, according to Stahley. He said that hiring would not delay the process of the airport security plan.
In January, when the Salem City Council committed over $2 million for terminal improvements, construction was projected for completion by mid-May.
Stahley told the council Monday construction would be largely complete by the end of the month, though some equipment for the Transportation Security administration is scheduled to arrive in June for installation.
“Construction is the easy part, now,” Stahley said to Salem Reporter on Monday. “The more critical element is getting the security plan in place and approved by TSA and the Federal Aviation Administration.”
The city is projecting federal approvals will be complete in July.
“It’s difficult to predict the federal government, but so far they have been very helpful and responsive and I expect that will continue,” Paskell said.
It has taken millions of dollars from city, state and federal funds to bring the airport to this point, a years-long effort supported by the city council, business and tourism groups in the region.
The unnamed airline is a budget airline with ticket prices around $69 and $89 that intends to make Salem its West Coast hub, Travel Salem President Angie Onyewuchi said during the January meeting.
Stahley said the airline will announce its start date at least 60 days in advance, meaning if the first flight takes off on August 15, the public would know by June 15. The two-month window would allow for ticket sales and marketing.
“Because they have a business decision to make, also. ‘When do we want to start service, what’s most advantageous to use to help ensure our success?’ So that’s outside our control,” Stahley said to Salem Reporter.
Stahley said the city is working as fast as it can through the federal approval process. The city has indicated a summer start date with confidence for some time.
“Again it’s not our call,” Stahley said. “Summer is soon.”
After Stahley’s presentation Monday, Councilor Deanna Gwyn asked about the airline’s previous indication that they would walk if they couldn’t start service by spring or early summer.
Mayor Chris Hoy said that though that deadline was stated several times, it is no longer the case.
“That turned out to be more of a motivational discussion,” he said.
Contact reporter Abbey McDonald: [email protected] or 503-704-0355.
SUBSCRIBE TO GET SALEM NEWS – We report on your community with care and depth, fairness and accuracy. Get local news that matters to you. Subscribe today to get our daily newsletters and more. Click I want to subscribe!
Abbey McDonald joined the Salem Reporter in 2022. She previously worked as the business reporter at The Astorian, where she covered labor issues, health care and social services. A University of Oregon grad, she has also reported for the Malheur Enterprise, The News-Review and Willamette Week.