A plane idles at Salem Municipal Airport, in front of Salem Air Services. (Troy Brynelson/Salem Reporter files)
A local group working to revive commercial flights out of the Salem Municipal Airport says it hopes to start courting an airliner in April.
Business owners and private citizens have hired a consultant and will apply for $750,000 in federal grants this winter and $250,000 in state grants next year.
“We’re very excited that we’re able to move forward with our grant application and see what we’ll bring to the community,” said Brent DeHart, owner of Salem Aviation Fueling, which would benefit from having more airplanes to repair and supply.
The latest timeline comes after Salem City Council agreed to help the group and the Salem Area Chamber of Commerce explore the idea. After Delta Air Lines opened for just 17 months in 2007, it remained a question whether officials would be on board.
The city, which owns the airport, in November gave the chamber permission to apply for the state grant, then agreed to apply for the federal grant.
The state grant, through the Oregon Department of Aviation, will help pay for the consultant and a marketing budget. The federal grant, through the U.S. Department of Transportation, will pool with private pledges to help keep the initiative afloat if routes aren’t profitable in the early goings.
The group maintains that Salem residents provided demand for Delta Air Lines’ route to Salt Lake City, but the recession and a spike in jet fuel prices doomed the service. The group would now hope to bring in routes to Seattle, Denver or San Francisco.
The pool’s functions still need to be clarified, said Kristin Retherford, director of Urban Development. She said if the airliner starts drawing from the reserve, it would first dip into private pledges before pulling from government money.
“For the federal money, if it gets to that point, the city has to front that money and ask for (reimbursement) from the U.S. Department of Transportation,” Retherford said. “But there are a whole lot of steps and approval and council action before we get to that point.”
Curt Arthur, who is leading the group’s effort to raise private money, told Salem Reporter Friday it has raised between $250,000 and $350,000. The group hopes to be at $500,000 by spring.
“Now that we have approval I just need to hunker down,” he said.
Neither grant has been applied for. The Oregon Department of Aviation is not accepting grant applications until first quarter 2019, according to Matthew Lawyer, program coordinator.
Salem City Council will have more chances to decide whether it wants to pursue the effort. Retherford said council must vote to accept the federal dollars.
“It’s conditional on a whole lot of things,” Retherford said.
That would include a public comment period. Previous objections included environmental concerns and that it could siphon taxpayer dollars.
The group has been adamant that this won’t cost the public, and DeHart argued that having an airliner in Salem is better for the environment because it keeps cars from driving to Portland.
Councilor Tom Andersen said he is willing to study the possibility of bringing service back to Salem but added carbon emissions are a real concern.
“To me that is not a winning argument at all because there are all sorts of studies that show how much greater carbon emissions are from one airplane than 300 cars,” he said. “I’m not saying I’m against it but I need to study these things. We need to look into it and at some point we need to make a decision.”
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