Politics & Government

Heavily subsidized flight to rural Kentucky airport to end

SOMERSET, Ky. — A program to subsidize passenger air service from a southern Kentucky airport has cost taxpayers more than $960,000, but with the subsidy about to end, the carrier plans to pull out after Friday.

Lynn Roy, president of Locair Inc., which most recently offered service to Baltimore and Washington, D.C., said there were periods when flights were full, but interviews and records obtained by the Herald-Leader show there were few passengers on some flights. Only one passenger was on board last month, for instance, along with two pilots, when the company's nine-seat plane slid off the runway while landing at the Lake Cumberland Regional Airport.

"On a month-to-month basis, it was never really strong enough," Roy said.

U.S. Rep. Harold "Hal " Rogers, a Somerset Republican who has pushed for development in his district, used the service at times when it fit his schedule, said his spokeswoman, Stefani Zimmerman.

The company sought more money from local governments to continue underwriting passenger service, but the county didn't have the money and the city couldn't foot the subsidy alone, officials said.

With the service gone, the airport won't be using its passenger terminal, funded with a $3 million federal grant, for the time being, said airport manager Ron Swartz.

A 2008 federal study showed that only 30 percent of the communities that got grants similar to Somerset's met all the goals of their proposal to develop or enhance air service.

Aviation consultant Michael Boyd said it's not surprising that the federal grant didn't result in sustained passenger air service from Somerset, population 12,000.

Among other factors, the Lexington airport and its connecting flights are only 90 minutes away, he said.

"That was one of those things that was just a total waste of money," Boyd said of the grant to Somerset.

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