Lynchburg airport receives grant money to lure new airline

New wings might be coming to the Lynchburg Regional Airport (LYH). The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) recently awarded the Lynchburg Regional Airport a $700,000 federal grant as part of their small community air service development program for 2011.

Expanding — LYH to pursue AirTran Airways as competitor for US Airways. Photo credit: Jenny House

The grant given to Lynchburg, according to a news release from VDOT, was only conditionally selected since the amount awarded was less than the city requested. VDOT Air Service Development Program was able to award $15 million to 29 communities that met their requirements.

Lynchburg Regional Airport Director Mark Courtney said that the grant is valid for up to three years and that the airport is currently only able to pursue AirTran Airways, a subsidiary of Southwest Airlines in Dallas, with the grant money.

However, Courtney said, that does not mean the airport is not actively seeking other airlines to fly out of Lynchburg.

“We’re looking at a number of prospects that might possibly consider adding service,” Courtney said.

After losing Delta Airlines in 2010, US Airways, according to the Lynchburg Regional Airport website, became the only airway to fly out of the city to any connecting areas. The airport went from 400 daily departure seats to 300, Courtney said. Because fewer flights and seats are available for passengers, the airport has lost some revenue.

Passengers, such as Liberty University senior Chelsea Thompson, are forced to travel great distances to find connecting flights to their primary locations over extended breaks from school. Having more airlines in the Lynchburg Regional Airport would mean more opportunities for frequent fliers to depart from a closer location than Roanoke, Va., the next closest airport.

“It would be a lot more convenient,” Thompson said when asked about whether more airlines in Lynchburg would be beneficial.

While the grant given to the Lynchburg Regional Airport can only be used for AirTran Airways, Courtney suggested that the airport would like VDOT to allow the airport to extend the money to other airlines as well.

“We certainly would like to pursue the possibility of mending our grant to allow it to be applied to a second airline, any second airline,” Courtney said.

Lynchburg’s new grant money is only one way the Lynchburg Regional Airport hopes to lure prospective airlines to its gates. Currently, the airport’s primary prospective candidate for possible future air services is United Airlines, a subsidiary of United Continental Holdings, according to Courtney. Professionals at the airport are in the process of creating a detailed market forecast to bring to the headquarters of United Continental Holdings in Chicago.

With some $36 million in improvements to the airport over the past 10 years, the offer should be enticing to airline providers, Courtney said. If United Airlines decides to join the Lynchburg Regional Airport, then there is the possibility of having a direct express service from Lynchburg to Dallas, he said.

“In terms of our local air service needs and providing those local air service needs, this airport is critical,” Courtney said.

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