A State Seeks to Boost Air Travel Within its Borders

An Alaska Airlines flight takes off from Boise, Idaho, on May 29, 2019.

An Alaska Airlines flight takes off from Boise, Idaho, on May 29, 2019. Shutterstock

 

Connecting state and local government leaders

There are no direct flights between cities in Idaho, so travelers must take connecting flights out of state to travel between them. One lawmaker hopes to establish a committee to tackle the problem.

Lawmakers in Idaho may establish a committee to develop a plan to improve air travel within the state, a move supporters said is necessary to connect business people and education officials directly to Boise.

No airports in Idaho currently offer direct commercial flights to other Idaho cities, said state Sen. Dan Johnson, a Republican and the main sponsor of the legislative proposal to create the committee. Because the state is so long—479 miles, according to legislative documents—and has no north/south freeway, commuters often opt to take connecting flights out of state to travel to and from Idaho cities.

Johnson lives in Lewiston, a town near the Washington/Idaho border and a five-hour drive from Boise, where the legislature meets. The Lewiston-Nez Perce County Regional Airport lost its direct flight to Boise in 2018, and since then, Johnson said, commuting between the two cities is a hassle.

“I can tell you it’s been an awful lot of work to get back down here, cost-wise and time-wise,” he told the Senate Transportation Committee at a hearing last week. “I’ve tried other locations, and even then, there’s still a large commitment of time and cost, and I think the same can be said about southeastern Idaho, too.”

Changes in the airline industry are largely to blame for the demise of the intrastate flight system, Johnson said, including a shift to larger aircraft. In addition to an inconvenience for residents, the loss of flights is a loss of revenue for the state, he said.

“I think there’s a lot of opportunity to reconnect Idaho to bring some of our travel and some of our business back to the state,” he said. “As we continue to grow as a state I think this becomes even more important.”

As written, Johnson’s proposal would establish an 11-member legislative committee, chaired by two members of the legislature—one from the Senate, appointed by the chamber’s president pro-tem, and one from the House, appointed by its speaker. The remaining nine members—one from the state Department of Transportation, three from the business community, one from the commercial airline industry, two Idaho airport directors and two members of the public—would be appointed by the co-chairs.

“To the extent practicable, these appointments shall include representation from each county served by an airport with commercial air service,” the proposal states.

The committee could, with approval, hire an outside consultant or analyst to assist with research. The group would present its findings to legislators in the next legislative session.

Johnson’s proposal draws from a similar initiative in Wyoming, where the state provides more than $1 million annually for airport improvement projects, marketing grants and airline revenue guarantees, which help mitigate financial risk for the airlines. That program provides a framework that could work well in Idaho, given the states’ similar topography and demographics, said Gary Peters, chairman of the Lewiston-Nez Perce County Regional Airport Authority Board.

“We can actually watch it working, and it’s working for Wyoming,” he said. “I think this is something we can put in place...and stay ahead of the curve of this changing airline (industry). When we bring up the question of a non-hub flight, the airlines don’t even like hearing that word right now. We have to stay on top of that so we can get our business folks and our legislative folks and our education folks where they need to be.”

The transportation committee approved the proposal last week, and the Senate passed the measure 31-4 on Monday. It moves next to the House.

Kate Elizabeth Queram is a Staff Correspondent for Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.

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