Local Features
12:10 pm
Fri February 5, 2010

New Chicago Jet Service Brings Economic Promise

Paducah, KY – The next time you plan to book a flight, you may want to consider your options. A new jet service to Chicago from Paducah's Barkley Regional Airport starts Thursday. SkyWest-operated United Express will throttle passengers from the Four Rivers area to the windy city and back again twice daily. Chris Taylor finds out more.

So, I'm planning a weekend trip to New York City this spring and I'm going to use what I find to be the most convenient way to search for plane tickets. It's called kayak.com. It's spelled just like the boat and you may not have heard of it, but the site aggregates results from the more popular ones like Priceline, Expedia, or Travelocity, and it compares the results all in one search.

I live in Murray, so I figure I'm going to have to drive the two plus hours to Nashville and catch my flight out of there. But what's this? Kayak says my closest airport is Barkley Regional in Paducah and what's more? The prices aren't ridiculous. For a weekend roundtrip in April I'm looking at paying about $275 without taxes to fly out and return to Nashville. It's about $50 more from Memphis, and only about $80 more to do it from Paducah. That's pretty reasonable, considering driving and parking costs, but especially compared to what the prices were. So to learn more, I go straight to the source.

Jones- Welcome to Paducah!

That's Barkley Regional Marketing Director Jackie Jones with the kind of jovial greeting she thinks you won't hear in New York. She greets passengers with it every Monday alongside many from Paducah's tourism industry. She says the way airlines structure ticket prices can get confusing.

Jones- They do change a lot and sometimes customers will call and say, "You know I've been wanting to go to a destination in the southeast and I'm finding when I go online when I look at the ticket prices and the schedule that it's extremely high." We're pleased with what they're doing right now and we are seeing a lot of the rates coming down.

One reason prices are becoming more competitive with larger airports like Memphis and Nashville, is that the 50-passenger seat jets are more time and space efficient. In other words, it's more passengers going more quickly to their destinations. Up until Thursday, Paducah has flown Delta flights to Memphis in a two propeller plane. The trip to Chicago takes just under an hour and a half. Passengers will take off from Paducah around 6:00am and 3:00pm, with return flights arriving around 2:30 and 11:00pm.

Jones- And within the first three to six months, if we're able to fill those planes, they'll bring in a third flight a day.

Jones introduces me to Sky West's Station Manager: Kay Feathers. She's operated regional services all over the country and is very optimistic about the service's outlook in Paducah.

Feathers- Just the fact that we have service to Chicago should speak for itself right there, that's quite a major community that offers endless business opportunities.

On top of business, Chicago adds tons of other destinations, including international ones; all now within reach from Paducah. While Feathers says the new service will be a boon for the community, Jackie Jones says

Jones- This is one of the biggest economic boosts that this region has had in some time. The possibilities of this are huge. We've never had a destination hub before. Our other hubs have been strictly a connecting point between other places.

To see how the new service will affect big business in Paducah, I call up the United States Enrichment Corporation, or USEC. They run Paducah's Gaseous Diffusion Plant. I talk to Public Affairs Manager Georgann Lookofsky, who says USEC has quite a few people in the skies at any given time. They took about 326 flights last year alone coming in or going from Barkley Regional.

Lookofsky- Now with the new connection through Chicago, that should give us increased ability to make connecting flights. We had been limited purely to Memphis and then we had even a limited number of flights, which made it difficult.

Lookofsky says her company flies often to the USEC headquarters in Baltimore, Maryland and all over the U.S. to meet with vendors who supply the company with quality control parts. However, she says the company has yet to book any flights under the new service and isn't sure exactly how it will affect their bottom line.

Lookofsky- In the last few years, we've had a number of people who will choose to drive to Nashville and in many cases that has been less expensive. But, we obviously we also pay people for the cost of their drive, and so if the prices for the new jet service can be reasonably equitable then certainly we would look toward using that more.

The proof will be in the proverbial pudding beginning next week, and by this time next year we'll know if passenger traffic will exceed the 43,000 passengers who took off last year from Barkley regional.