Grant sought in effort to get air service to West Coast

Diane Schwenke
Diane Schwenke

Phil Castle, The Business Times

Diane Schwenke has high hopes for an application for a federal grant that could help in convincing an airline to provide daily nonstop service between Grand Junction and the West Coast.

Schwenke had initially hoped to raise a 25 percent match for the grant. But a total of almost $400,000 in local pledges of cash and in-kind services exceeded that goal and strengthened the application, said the president and chief executive officer of the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce. “We got an amazing response from the community on this.”

The chamber joined with the Grand Junction Regional Airport, Grand Junction Economic Partnership and other organizations in applying for a grant through the Department of Transportation Small Community Air Service Development Program. The program combines federal funding with local cash and services to reduce the risk involved in providing commercial air services in smaller markets.

The grant application requests $750,000 in federal funding. That money would be matched by $129,500 in cash donations and another $269,400 worth of services, including advertising and discounted aviation fuel.

If the grant is awarded, Schwenke said a third-party negotiator would be hired to work with an airline to establish service. The airline would receive assistance in marketing service as well as a reimbursement if passenger loads fell below a certain threshold for a given month, she said. A month audit would monitor passenger loads and margins.

The idea of the program, Schwenke said, is to entice an airline to offer new service by reducing risk until the route proves profitable.

Airlines already offer daily nonstop service between Grand Junction Regional Airport and airports in the Dallas-Fort Worth area as well as Denver, Houston, Phoenix and Salt Lake City.

However, the results of a study conducted by the Grand Junction Regional Airport reflected passenger demand for service to Southern California as well as connections to international flights from there, Schwenke said. While the grant application seeks assistance to attract service to the West Coast, Los Angeles International Airport would constitute one of the best fits, she added.

In addition to meeting a need, Schwenke said commercial air service between Grand Junction and the West Coast also could help to bolster economic development in Mesa County.

A consultant hired to conduct a competitive location assessment of Mesa County recently suggested that economic development efforts focus on areas within one commercial airline flight from Grand Junction. Adding a West Coast city, particularly Los Angeles, to that list would substantially expand the number of potential businesses that could be recruited to relocate in the Grand Valley, Schwenke said.

The chamber, Grand Junction Regional Airport and Grand Junction Economic Partnership joined with six other cash contributors on the effort — the cities of Grand Junction and Fruita, the Town of Palisade, Mesa County, Colorado Mesa University, Grand Junction Visitor & Convention Bureau and Gateway Canyon Resort.

The airport offered to waive landing fees for commercial service from the West Coast, while the chamber also offered marketing and administrative assistance. West Star Aviation offered to sell aviation fuel at a discounted price and waive fueling fees.

Other contributors offered assistance with marketing and advertising to promote air service between Grand Junction and the West Coast, including the Business Times, Daily Sentinel, MBC Grand, Nexstar Broadcasting, TownSquare Media and X106.9 KMZK Radio.

A decision on the grant application is expected later this year. But Schwenke said she has high hopes based on the level of local commitment to the effort.