WATERLOO — A group working to improve commercial air service at the Waterloo Regional Airport is asking local governments for a financial commitment to secure additional flights.
Members of the Grow Cedar Valley Air Service Working Group asked the Black Hawk County Board of Supervisors this week to commit $125,000 in two consecutive years to provide part of a minimum revenue guarantee for airlines willing to provide the extra service.
The volunteer group also plans to ask for taxpayer support from the cities of Waterloo, Cedar Falls and Waverly, among others, to fund what is expected to be more than $750,000 a year needed to get at least a third daily flight.
American Airlines currently provides two daily flights between Waterloo and Chicago O’Hare International Airport.
David Deeds, a member of the Grow Cedar Valley committee, said a financial guarantee appears to be necessary to get American to provide a third daily flight, possibly to its Dallas hub, or entice a second air carrier to Waterloo.
“We are competing with these other communities of similar sizes,” he said. “If we’re not out there, if we’re not present, if we’re not able to offer incentives we’re going to lose those competitions.”
Deeds noted the group has been working for a year on plans to improve commercial air service in Waterloo, which also includes gathering information, meeting with airlines and working on marketing campaigns to boost flight loads, which also make the facility more attractive to carriers.
“This is an important economic development tool for us,” said Deeds, noting Waterloo isn’t guaranteed to keep the service now subsidized by the Federal Aviation Administration’s essential air service program.
Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, the Quad Cities, Dubuque and Sioux City all have commercial passenger jet service. Mason City, Fort Dodge, Marshalltown, Ottumwa, Clinton and Burlington don’t.
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“The question is: Which of these columns do we belong in?” Deeds said.
The local air service working group has looked to Sioux City for direction on how to improve commercial jet service in Waterloo.
Both Waterloo and Sioux Gateway Airport entered the federally subsidized essential air service program in 2012 after Delta Airlines left their markets, and both cities had two daily American flights to Chicago at the time.
Sioux City put together a $750,000 guarantee in 2016, which added a daily flight to Dallas. American recently added a third daily flight to Chicago on its own.
“They started at the same spot we did; they’ve now got four flights a day to two different destinations, unsubsidized,” Deeds said. “That’s our goal: this need for a subsidy to go away.”
The working group is seeking commitments, not cash, from local governments at this point. The money would be disbursed only if the airport gets the improved service it seeks.
The county Board of Supervisors took no vote on the request Tuesday, but Supervisor Chris Schwartz said he supported the proposal.
“Having a robust and commercial airline is necessary for the growth of this community,” he said. “I’d like to see the county be part of the leadership in making sure we secure this asset for our future.”
Supervisor Tom Little said he was withholding judgment until finding out what other local governments are willing to contribute.
“I would think the major stakeholder should be the city of Waterloo,” Little said. “They’re the ones that own it, have the board and so forth.”
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