ST. GEORGE – The City of St. George was awarded $550,000 from the U.S. Department of Transportation on Tuesday to improve airline service at the St. George Municipal Airport.
The grant comes from the DOT’s Small Community Air Service Development Program, which was instituted by the federal government in 2002. The purpose of the program is to help small communities enhance their air travel needs.
This is not the first time St. George has been a grant receipient.
“We applied and were awarded a grant in 2009,” said Marc Mortensen, the assistant city manager of the City of St. George.
The original grant was for $100,000, and used to conduct a market study of air travel in the region – which includes a five-county area serviced by the St. George Municipal Airport. After analyzing air routes travelers out of the airport used, it was determined that only 20 percent of the traffic was local. The rest were traveling to cities like Salt Lake City, Los Angeles, Denver, Phoenix and San Francisco.
Grant money was also used for giving presentations to prospective airlines that could come to St. George, as well as marketing for SkyWest Airlines.
The new grant “can be used to develop new air service to SGU,” Mortensen said.
Communities awarded grant funds are allowed “considerable flexibility” in how those funds are used, according to the DOT website.
Mortensen said grant money would be used in efforts to attract new airlines to the St. George airport. Other possible uses of grant funds may include but are not limited to:
- Covering the expenses of any new advertising or promotional activities that can reasonably be related to improving the air service to the community.
- New studies designed to measure air service deficiencies, or to measure traffic loss or diversion to other communities.
- For the employment of new, dedicated air service development staff on a long-term basis.
- Advertising or public relations.
- Funds may also be used for financial incentives, including subsidy or revenue guarantees, to air carriers in conjunction with their provision of air service or the fare levels charged, or to ground service providers in providing access to air transportation services. Such subsidies may only last for up to three years.
Grant money does not need to be spent within a year’s time after it is granted, but generally will not exceed a three year period. Grant funds are also given on a reimbursable basis as communities put funds toward approved projects. Mortensen said reimbursements are on an incremental basis, which would allow the city to apply for reimbursements as needed.
Despite the flexibility attached to the grant funds, Mortensen said there was an area they couldn’t be applied to. “(Funds) can’t be applied to security development,” he said.
Grants from the Small Community Air Service Development Program are only granted to 40 applicants per year, with a maximum of four grants per state, eligible if they meet particular requirements. This year, St. George was the only city in Utah to be awarded a grant.
According to the DOT website, the program has up to $14 million available for its 2012 grant recipients.
A list of the recipient communities and funding totals is available here.
How grant funds will be administered
As for the process of how the grant funds will be used, Mortensen said the City of St. George mayor and city council have the final say. “The council has to give their approval,” he said.
Airport Manager Rick Stehmeier will be the administrator of the funds, Mortensen said. Working with other city staff, and third party consultants hired by the city, he will issue proposals and suggestions to the city council. Before any proposal reaches the Council however, they will also go through the public works director, the city manager, as well as other city department heads as needed. The city manager is ultimately the one who presents the items to the City Council.
“All goes to the City Council through the city manager,” Mortensen said.
Proposals themselves will also tend to have various options attached which the City Council has the freedom to accept, reject, or even mix as it feels appropriate.
At no time will there be a public comment period on how the money is to be used.
SkyWest itself will not have a role in how the funds are allocated. Instead, Mortensen said, it would be treated like any prospective regional airline. The city would make proposals to the company and present how expanding air service would be a profitable move for the company. So far, Mortensen said up to 10 regional airlines were being approached by the city for this purpose.
Whether or not SkyWest becomes a receipient of any new grants funds, only time will tell, though Mortensen said he felt the St. George area was well-served by the airline.
“A city our size with our (level of) air service is uncommon,” he said, and attributed the fact SkyWest is headquartered in St. George to the current quality of service out of the airport.
Marissa Snow, a spokeswoman for SkyWest Airlines, said the company was in regular communication with the city, and valued its “mutually beneficial relationship.”
As for the grant, “It’s great news for the community,” Snow said.
Though SkyWest prefers to remain the sole air service provider for St. George, should a competing airline be brought in Snow said, “Skywest (will continue) to show its commitment to quality air service.”
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