Monday, June 25, 2007

Taking Flight

Sometimes everyone avoids speaking the uncomfortable truth. For years around here, one of the truths to be avoided has been the failure of Capital Airport. Well, the SJ-R’s Dave Bakke, I think bravely, came out yesterday and said it:
Springfield's airport peaked around 30 years ago when Ozark Airlines flew out of here every half hour. The airport's budget was larger than it is today, and it flew more passengers. In 1978, we had 315,000 boardings - about five times what we will have this year.

Also, the 183rd Tactical Fighter Wing's F16s won't be using our airport. The air show is gone. It's time to rethink and reclassify our airport.

Throw in the towel as a commercial airport. Establish a close working relationship with Bloomington's airport and run daily (free) shuttle service to and from that airport.

If we must subsidize an airport with our tax money, let's subsidize a successful one. Give financial support to the Bloomington airport in return for partnership status and local representation on its board.

Bloomington is the Central Illinois Regional Airport. We are in the Central Illinois region. Having Springfield's support, instead of its competition, makes fiscal sense for our city, for local travelers, for Bloomington's airport and most of all for beleaguered Springfield taxpayers.

We have given the airport enough chances to be a viable commercial airport. It's not going to happen.
I’m not sure I’m ready to call it quits. At least not in my heart. My head says Bakke is right, we just aren’t in a position anymore to run a viable commercial airport. We just can’t keep an airline flying out of here. And that makes me sad. I remember the days of Ozark Airlines. That was back when you could go out on the tarmac and greet deboarding passengers or go up to the observation platform on top of the terminal to watch the flights lad and take off. But those days are long, long gone.

This doesn’t mean we need to pull a Mayor Daley-does-Meigs and go rolling up the runways and planting grass. There would still be an airport, used by local aviators and companies and, yes, even the Air National Guard minus the F-16s; it just won’t be a place where you can get a regularly schedule commercial flight.

And maybe this will lead to better things in the future for the airport. Wipe the slate clean and begin building again from scratch. I don’t know the logistics. Maybe this would doom any possibility for the return of an ANG air wing or annual air show, but I’m not sure we haven’t already reached that point anyway. Maybe it is time to face facts.

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