By Michelle Price
Special to the UCBJ
WHITE COUNTY – Does driving just 10 minutes south of Cookeville to fly out on your next vacation sound like a dream? Upper Cumberland Regional Airport board members took the first step in making that dream a reality Tuesday night when they voted to spend $25,000 to conduct a study to determine the need and feasibility of commercial flights at the airport.
Ailevon Pacific Aviation Consulting, an international firm specializing in air service development, was chosen to conduct the first phase of the study. The company is staffed by experienced aviation professionals with extensive experience in Network Planning, Revenue Management, Operations, Airport Management, Aviation Strategy, and Management Consulting.
“I think this will offer the people of this area something that they have not had access to,” said Dean Selby, Airport Manager. “This could be a game changer for us. Maybe not immediately, but over time this could be a huge benefit. The Upper Cumberland region is becoming a player in the economic structure of the southeast, and I think this is something that could help fuel that.”
The “catchment” study is budgeted at $25,000 and is scheduled to be completed by March 31, 2022. It will use industry ticketing data to identify airport usage within our designated region, including an analysis of traffic “leaked” to other airports. Other items that will be studied include numbers of business flights vs. leisure flights, destinations of local travelers and the general demographics of travelers.
Dean added, “We may get through this first study and determine that it’s not economically feasible; we’re just not there yet. That’s a possibility. You just have to keep an open mind and go at this knowing that what we are doing is to do this right.”
If this first study is positive, the next step will be social media and direct mail campaigns to determine how the service will benefit the local area. Questions will be asked such as, “What do you want to see? How would you use this? How will this benefit you? Would you feel better about the area if we were doing this?”
The social media and direct mail outreach could extend to outlying areas, such as Mt. Juliet or Harriman, to determine if they would be interested in using this airport as an alternative to the Nashville International Airport or Tyson-McGee in Knoxville.
The results of the first two steps will be used to analyze the size and type of airport that would be best suited for the area and the feasibility of adding commercial flight service.
“There is a lot of stuff that we would have to do that still has to be identified,” said Selby. “Boarding ramps, luggage carts, and negotiations with the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) – those would still have to be looked at. There’s a lot of moving parts to this that we have to do to get the airport certified to handle commercial operations.”
Selby feels that it is reasonable to believe that commercial flights could be happening within five years at the airport, possibly three years if the stars align perfectly.
“Would you not like to be able to come here and be here 30 minutes before your flight, go through security here and step off your flight in Florida in an hour and a half?” Selby asked. “That’s better than being on the interstate for one hour or three hours depending on traffic, going through unknown security…that could be a game changer.”