Roof Gives Update on Barkley Airport to Rotary
By Bill Hughes
PADUCAH, KY - The Paducah Rotary Club welcomed Barkley Regional Airport Manager Richard Roof to their Wednesday meeting, and he provided an update on the airport's status in an ever-changing industry, and the recent effect of cold weather.

Quoting news articles estimating the polar vortex cost the economy $5 billion, and the airline industry $1.4 billion, Roof said, "It's been a tough week." Over 7,000 flights were cancelled nationwide on Monday and Tuesday. Roof said those cancellations were mainly due to snow, but the cold weather's effect on diesel equipment and workers at terminals, and FAA limits on work hours for flight crews contributed, too.

Barkley remained open the entire time, since the snow and ice moved further north, but they were affected until Tuesday night by the cancellation of SkyWest connecting flights from Chicago. He said that was quite odd.

Roof said, "I went back and looked to see when it was this disruptive locally, and it goes back to the winter, mid-January of 1978. If you can recall back then when we were dealing with between 30-36 inches of snow on the ground, that also was a tough one."

Roof said the airline industry has been in a great deal of flux, with the merger between American Airlines and U.S. Airways grabbing recent headlines. He recalled that in 1978 there were 12 major airlines in the country, and 13 local service carriers, but after the industry de-regulation, there are now only 3 of those legacy carriers, with Southwest and Alaska Airlines among others that have thrived.

How does that impact local and regional airports? Before de-regulation, more airlines meant more hubs, where a majority of flights were based, and those feeder flights were from smaller cities. In 1988, Paducah had five commuter carriers, with flights to Nashville (American), Memphis (Northwest), St. Louis (TWA), and Cincinnati (Delta). But there are now less carriers, so fewer hubs and flights, with more emphasis on the bottom line.

This situation forced Roof and his staff to make some difficult decisions.

"The hubs we were used to could no longer support the needs of this community in terms of connecting flights, so Chicago turned out to be the best option at that time, and that's how it's worked out," Roof said.

He said the prospects of restoring service to the previous airports are remote, because the connecting flights have basically disappeared. This is also the case in other cities like Evansville or Sioux City, IA, which were once much busier.

Roof said regional carrier costs have gone up, too. SkyWest spends $12,000 per day for two round-trip flights to Chicago, in planes that were designed when fuel was $1/gallon. That fuel cost is now $3.50/gallon, so many companies have moved to 50-seat jets, but they have limited life spans, and fewer seats make it tougher to profit.

That means that SkyWest will likely retire their 50-seat planes, replacing them with new, more efficient 66- to 70-seat planes for the route to Chicago.

Good news for Barkley is a 28% increase in passengers flying out of Paducah last year, in spite of a temporary loss of government passengers due to sequestration. Roof said he's also expecting a slight increase in outgoing passengers in 2014.

Some might think a low-cost carrier or leisure market carrier might work in Paducah, but Roof thinks they have probably reached their growth potential. Consideration for this type of service in our area would be depend on the type of aircraft being used, and competition with existing low-cost carriers like Allegiant Air in Owensboro, and others in Nashville and Memphis. But for now, Roof is pleased with the their stable partnership with SkyWest.

Published 02:30 PM, Wednesday Jan. 08, 2014
Updated 03:37 PM, Thursday Jan. 09, 2014

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