Commercial Flights Could Be Permanently Re-routed from Jonesboro's Airport

JUNE 28, 2004 - Posted at: 6:45pm CDT

JONESBORO, AR -- About $1 million in federal funding is given annually to keep flights going in and out of Jonesboro's airport. Department of Transportation leaders have tentatively decided to eliminate that funding that's issued through the Essential Air Service program, known as EAS. The decision was made on June 19th.

"Of course, it was a surprise to us," said Hubert Brodell, Mayor of the City of Jonesboro. "Disappointment."

This isn't the first time federal air service funding has been threatened, and, like before, leaders are hoping they'll be successful keeping commercial flights arriving and departing in Jonesboro. Now, work is being done to convince federal leaders why they should keep the money coming. Mayor Brodell said the city spent thousands of dollars on a new terminal; confident that airline service would remain in Jonesboro.

Jonesboro isn't the only community that could be effected. Brownwood, Texas, along with Enid and Ponca City, Oklahoma, are also listed to be cut-off. Leaders in Craighead County and at the airport, as well as those at Mesa Airlines and it's subsidiary are working with legislators from Arkansas to try to keep the funding.

Most of the Arkansas delegation sent a letter to the Department of Transportation on June 25th. Legislators are frustrated not only that funding could be pulled completely, but also that a $200 per passenger subsidy cap that's based on 1990 economic costs is still in place.

Mike Medlock, an airport commissioner, added, "We're hopeful that we will be able to demonstrate positive trends to the Department of Transportation, which will impact some of their data that isn't quite so current."

Mayor Brodell said the number of passengers served has increased by one third over the last few months. He believes keeping Mesa Airlines at the airport is crucial to industrial recruitment.

"We're gonna try very hard to keep that service out there, and keep it for the public, and I think it will become a viable service in time," he said.

City and county leaders, airport commissioners and representatives from Mesa Airlines will meet in Jonesboro on Wednesday to discuss their strategy. Another meeting that includes Congressman Marion Berry and possibly other legislators is also being scheduled.