PIKEVILLE, Ky. (WYMT) Update: 10/27/14
Monday marked the beginning of a new era in transportation in Eastern Kentucky with the first round trip commercial flight between Pikeville and Nashville.
The plane left Pikeville/Pike County Regional Airport at 6:30 a.m. Monday and returned about 12 hours later.
"The community has had a long-held goal to bring commercial air service to the mountains and today was the day we made it happen, so it's a big day," Appalachian Air spokesman Luke Schmidt said.
"We think that by connecting Pikeville and Eastern Kentucky to the global air system, it will help create jobs," Schmidt said. "It will help people interested in investing in the region to get here and find out what a great community it is and what is available here."
Fewer than 10 people were aboard Monday's flight, but Appalachian Air officials are optimistic seats will start filling up as more people hear about the service.
Skip Holmes with the Southeast Kentucky Chamber of Commerce made the round trip Monday. He said the best part is being close to his home in Floyd County when the plane lands instead of having to drive back from the airports in Lexington or Louisville.
"Being able to come here, get in my car, be in my easy chair in 15 minutes, that's perfect," Holmes said.
Right now, one round trip flight per day is scheduled to leave Pikeville every morning at 6:30.
To book a flight and look up ticket costs, visit AppalachianAir.com.
A consultant says Appalachian Air has cleared another hurdle and can start working toward flying in and out of Pikeville.
Adviser Luke Schmidt told the Pikeville City Commission this week that the Pikeville-Pike County Airport won't need a certification from the federal government before allowing the airline to start flying.
The Appalachian News-Express reported that the Transportation Security Administration still must approve the airport's plan and security measures.
Schmidt says until that approval comes through, there's no way to know when Appalachian Air can start flying. Schmidt says he hopes for TSA approval within a month.
The airline had been scheduled to make its first flight on April 14.
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Commercial air service was set to start in Pikeville on Monday. However, officials say they recently learned the airport does not have proper certification for the service they plan to provide.
Officials say it took them four years to get to this point and they are now faced with an issue they did not foresee, and it is now up to federal agencies.
Non-stop flights to Nashville from Pikeville scheduled to start on April 14th, but Appalachian Air is not off the ground just yet.
City officials say in a nutshell the delay is due to the airport's certification.
"We can fly under a different certification but we limit ourselves to the amount of passengers we can take up," says City Manager Donovan Blackburn.
Under the current certification they could fly with only nine passengers, capacity for Appalachian Air is 19.
Blackburn says, "It is as simple as filling out paper work. We have to show certain aspects that the airport has, which it does meet. Preliminary tests have been done and looked at the preliminary results."
The three partners in the project; the city, airport board, and chamber of commerce say while they are not happy with the delay they remain committed to the project.
Jared Arnett, President and CEO of Southeast Kentucky Chamber of Commerce says, "We didn't want to come to this but the reality is it is where we are. It is something progressive and outside of the box, anytime you do that you take risk of things falling apart."
Officials say they want everything to be done right as they see this as their one shot at making commercial air service happen for Eastern Kentucky.
Arnett says, "We've invested a lot of time, resources, and effort into building this. It is like the old adage, 'now or never'. If we don't make this service work, we at the chamber truly believe that it will likely never happen in Eastern Kentucky."
Officials say does not mean it is now an issue of if commercial air service will happen...but is now a matter of when the service will actually start.
The city hired an attorney who works with the FAA, as they discuss options of moving forward with flying only nine passengers or waiting for the certification and launching at capacity.
Get ready for take off. In November, state and local leaders announced a new commercial air service coming to Eastern Kentucky. On Wednesday, many local leaders were on board for the trial flight. WYMT also flew along as they toured the facilities in Nashville.
More than a dozen people boarded the plane and took part in the hour long flight.
Project leaders have been busy preparing for the launch of Appalachian Air.
Luke Schmidt says, "We are daling with things like improving infrastructure at airport and dealing with creating TSA screening and security plan...we are in the middle of that right now."
Officials say Wednesday's trip is another step to getting the service up and running...touring the operating company, Cooperate Flight Management's maintenance facilities.
CFM Chief Executive Allen Howell says, " I think the community leaders have a real vision for what air service does for a community from the economic development stand point. The community understands this is an infrastructure issue, just like having a good highway system."
Wednesday's passengers, also getting a first hand look at Nashville International Airport, which officials say will be a huge gateway to Eastern Kentucky.
Passengers on Appalachian Air will fly in and out of Terminal C, which is in the main hub of the Nashville airport....with 70% of the airport's business taking place in that terminal.
Once in Nashville, passengers will not have to go back through security, making for easy connections and quick travel.
Schmidt says, "The Nashville airport is growing and it has a lot of service but it is not Atlanta and it is not Chicago, which on any scale are huge, complex, and can be cumbersome."
Officials hope to get Appalachian Air officially off the ground on April 14th, with ticket sales starting on February 24th.
That start date is a little later than officials had anticipated, due to some delays they could not control like the time it took to get proper certifications...which they say was slowed down due to the government shutdown.
Schmidt says, "Everyone involved in this project, whether they are in Pikeville or one of our providers, we are all comitted to doing this thing 100% - - first class all the way. We don't want anything to slip through, so that's why we did that."
Officials say a new website should be operating soon and will feature a trip calculator to help folks compare prices from other airports, while taking into account driving time and expenses.