At a coffee shop just down the road from the Bowling Green-Warren County Regional Airport it’s 10:45 in the morning, and Sonya Dick has just a couple hours before she hops in a rental car and drives to Indianapolis for business. She works as a clinical specialist for a regenerative tissue company.
“I work with customers, researchers, people all over the United States and other countries, as well. I cover Latin America and the Asian Pacific for our company,” said Dick.
That means she’s on the road a lot, normally driving to Nashville to catch a flight there. But what if she could connect to a larger airport without having to drive down I-65?
“It would be a huge change for me,” said Dick. “I would save approximately – it’s an hour-and-a-half to the airport each way – at least three hours a week that I could be home or I could be more productive for work or just enjoying my time at home.”
It’s been over three decades since there was commercial air service in Bowling Green. Airport manager Rob Barnett says they’ve done comprehensive studies on where people from the Bowling Green area are flying. He says 94 percent of the 720,000 airline tickets purchased in Warren County and nine surrounding counties go through Nashville.
Barnett says if commercial air service were to come to Bowling Green, it would make the most sense for the carrier to connect customers with Chicago O’Hare Airport or Atlanta. He says the small airport is built to handle commercial service.
“Minimal modifications, be it temporary modifications would be made to this particular terminal building – at a minimal cost in order to let the airline come in, operate, prove the market is here, show us they’re committed to this community and then look in the future of building some type of permanent terminal building to accommodate more passengers,” said Barnett.
And he says the rest is ready to go.
“As we set today, the infrastructure at the airport is in very good shape," he said. "For the most part, it is new. We do not have any aged infrastructure. Our runways, our taxi ways and our air-side infrastructure is in good shape.”
As lawmakers convened in Frankfort earlier this year, $750,000 for the Bowling Green-Warren County Regional Airport was included in the new two-year transportation bill. It met little resistance in the House and Senate. But when it came time for Governor Beshear to sign the bill into law, he used a line-item veto to take out that money for the airport and two other Kentucky airport development projects.
Speaking to WKU Public Radio’s Lisa Autry last week, Beshear says he supports commercial air service in Bowling Green, but his first priority is making sure the $6 million allotted for the state’s 53 airports is enough to cover upkeep and security.
“I just want to make sure that we don’t over-commit money that otherwise needs to go just to keep airports open and keep them safe. So, it could well be that we’ll be able to work out something on that Bowling Green project in this next couple of years,” said Beshear.
Even with that caveat, Barnett says the loss of the money was disappointing.
“Certainly a setback, absolutely I would agree with that entirely,” said Barnett. “We have work diligently – and when I say we – from our state representative to the county judge to the mayor to our chamber of Commerce and our congressman. All of those folks have been working on this particular air service development initiative for seven years.”
Barnett says he met with Beshear earlier this week and got his assurance that the airport would still be considered to receive part of the $3 million earmarked for airport development. Still Barnett says he’s not content to sit back and wait.
“I think there’s more of a sense of urgency here. I’ve actually been in discussions with several different airlines. They’ve shown interest in our community, but it is going to take an attractive incentive package in order for them to come to Bowling Green and start service. We’ve had airline offers before, to be quite honest with you, but those particular airlines did not serve the hubs that were preferable to our traveling community,” said Barnett.