The Killeen-Fort Hood Regional Airport has taken the first step to offering direct flights to Denver with upgrades funded by $1.38 million in federal and local grants.
A new, nonstop route to Denver will provide more flight options, and the added competition could lead to lower costs for flights, according to Mike Wilson, executive director of aviation for the City of Killeen Aviation Department.
“It should also help address our leakage to Austin,” Wilson said. “There are currently over 3,600 people per day that live within a 40- to 60-mile radius of the Killeen-Fort Hood Regional Airport that fly, but only approximately 9% of those folks use Killeen.”
Currently, roughly 73 percent fly out of Austin, and others fly out of Dallas, he said.
“There are currently approximately 174 people per day from this same area flying to Denver, but only one or two per day fly from Killeen,” Wilson said. “Giving our local folks more options, especially direct flights, provides a better service to our customers and hopefully will encourage folks to Fly Killeen.
“The more people that use our airport, the easier it is to convince airlines to add frequency, additional destinations and to recruit new airlines.”
Additional passengers flying out of the Killeen airport also increases airport revenue — which helps the airport continue to be self-sufficient.
President of the Greater Killeen Chamber of Commerce John Crutchfield agreed, saying competitive air service can translate to reasonable fares to desirable destinations, but there is no guarantee what route the airlines will be able to negotiate.
“It is a challenge for regional airports because routes have to pay for themselves,” Crutchfield said. “The airport has to prove to carriers that a proposed route will generate enough traffic. One way to accomplish that is the grant just received.”
Crutchfield said historically carriers have used the Killeen-Fort Hood Regional airport in eastbound flights, resulting in westbound travelers selecting different airports with direct flights west. The potential for a route to Denver could change that, he said.
“This route, to Denver, will provide us with a western route, more competitive air service and enhance economic development,” Crutchfield said. “That is why KEDC members voted to support this grant application.”
Currently, two airlines fly out of the Killeen-Fort Hood Regional Airport, Wilson said. American Airlines operates seven to eight flights per day to Dallas, and United Airlines operates two to three flights per day to Houston Intercontinental Airport, he said.
Wilson said winning one of the 22 awarded Small Community Air Service Development Program grants over the applicants from 78 communities across 38 states is due in large part to the Air Service Development Task Force made up of local and regional chambers of commerce, local colleges and universities, local and regional hospitals, KISD, Fort Hood, KEDC, Federal and State congressional leaders, local convention and visitors bureau, and many others.
“Local and regional support and cash commitments are a crucial component of the scoring criteria,” Wilson said. “The letters from the members of the task force as well as cash commitments from the KEDC and AdventHealth hospital played a large role in our success.”
In addition to the million-dollar grant from the U.S. Department of transportation, the Killeen Economic Development Corporation is funding $200,000, The Aviation Fund is contributing $100,000 and AdventHealth Central Texas hospital is giving $10,000, to make the new route possible.
“There is also $70,000 worth of in-kind service that will be provided by the airport and the city,” Wilson said. “The funds will be spread out over two years as a minimum revenue guarantee for marketing and to help offset startup costs.”
No tax revenue will be necessary for the project, Wilson said. Although the aviation fund is associated with the city, it is an enterprise fund that creates its own revenue and receives no funding from the general fund, he said.
Wilson said the grant money will not entirely cover the cost of the new route, but will mitigate the possible risk of starting the new service to Denver International Airport.
Although the funding is the first step toward the new route, Wilson said there is no exact timing to expect the new route.
“This is just the first step in a long process,” Wilson said. “It will take a substantial amount of time to get everything in place.”
Meanwhile, the airport has a new hangar under construction for CSI aviation, which is projected to be completed in January of 2022, resulting in about 42 jobs, Wilson said, and a second hangar is in the design phase, with a projected completion in the summer of 2023.
May and June are both reporting an increase in enplanements, with eight-to-ten percent higher rates compared to 2019 — before the pandemic, Wilson said.
“According to the national TSA thruput numbers, the total number of domestic passengers in the U.S. is still down 25-30 percent from this time in 2019,” Wilson said. “We are one of the very few airports in the country doing better than we were pre-COVID.”