Discussions on expanding commercial flight service at the Joplin Regional Airport could start by spring, airport manager Steve Stockam told the Joplin City Council on Monday night.
A bid by American Airlines, doing business as American Eagle, to provide two flights a day to and from an airport hub in Dallas at a much reduced federal subsidy is proof that Joplin can produce the passengers to make air service pay, Stockam told the council.
It is the sole bid for Joplin service, and the subsidy request is down by $2.4 million per year. American has notified the U.S. Department of Transportation that it can provide the daily flights for a subsidy of $342,560 a year for two years, down from $2,778,756 per year under the current contract with American.
“Obviously going into the program, they were using a bigger airplane and felt there was more risk in it, and, on that standpoint, we proved them wrong,” Stockam told the council of the perceived risk of doing business in Joplin. The airline switched from a 66-seat prop plane to a 50-seat jet, something that many passengers preferred, city officials said earlier. The new bid is based on an estimate of 51,000 passengers a year. In the past year, Joplin provided 53,000.
Asked by Councilman Michael Seibert if there is a timeline for expanding service, Stockam said the city’s consultant, Sixel Consulting Group, spoke to the airline about it earlier, and airline officials had several milestones they wanted to reach first. Stockam said those included rebidding the Essential Air Service contract, determining how many aircraft the airline would have available in future years, and emerging from bankruptcy. All of that should be finished soon, he said.
“We would hope to see some movement in the latter part of the first quarter or early in the second quarter” of 2013, Stockam said of service expansion. “To say a day, we cannot do that, but they have taken all our data, and they are very receptive.”
Based on previous customer surveys and the consultant’s study of the market, Stockam has previously said flights to Chicago are likely.
The council approved a letter of endorsement encouraging the federal government to approve the airline’s bid.
In other business, the council approved a change in zoning for property on the northeast corner of 26th Street and Wall Avenue from residential to commercial for the construction of a computer technology business. Houses on the property were destroyed by the 2011 tornado, and the commercial zoning is in keeping with a newly revised comprehensive plan the council adopted earlier for redevelopment of 26th Street.
The property will be the office for Neotech Solutions Inc., which formerly was located at 2816 S. Main St. That site also was destroyed by the tornado.
A contract for more work on Joplin Creek sewer lines was approved. The council authorized a contract of $496,383 with Rosetta Construction.
David Hertzberg, the city’s public works director, told the council that the work would entail relining a three-quarter-mile section of the sewer line north of Landreth Park. Work is being done on replacing a section of the line along the Landreth Park area of Murphy Boulevard, and blasting occasionally is heard in the valley as a result of the work. Work on the new section will start in February.
Additionally, the council approved a contract with Ewing Signal for $747,905 to install traffic signals and streetlights to replace those destroyed by the tornado.
Jack Schaller, assistant public works director, explained that replacing signals and signs was delayed because several government agencies had to review the project to approve their shares of payment. Some of the work will be funded by the federal and state emergency management agencies, and some by the Federal Highway Administration. The Missouri Department of Transportation also had to sign off on the project. About 80 percent of the cost will be paid by the other government agencies, Schaller said.
The council approved a new contract with the Joplin Humane Society for animal sheltering and health services for $211,000, about the same amount the city has been paying.
Ugly tie contest
TASTELESS TIES worn Monday night by City Council members were not a wardrobe malfunction. Gary Shaw won a friendly “ugly tie contest” conducted among the council members, with Bill Scearce and Benjamin Rosenberg coming in second and third.