Final Approach: Update

WICHITA FALLS, TX (KAUZ) - WICHITA FALLS, Tx (KAUZ) - Two years ago Wichita Falls residents got a shiny new regional airport terminal. Just before it opened in 2014, then Mayor Glenn Barham said, "our goal is to get a second carrier, which will cause our emplanements to go up."

He was referring to the number of passengers traveling in and out of the airport. Just over two years later, no second carrier has come and Wichita Falls has actually gone from four flights daily down to three.

"I'm traveling from Miami to Dallas and then Dallas to here," said Midwestern State University student Adrian Hurst. As an MSU student, he is in the Wichita Falls Regional Airport terminal a lot. He says he doesn't mind having only one choice.

"The only place I go from here is just to Dallas. So, if the flight gets delayed or canceled, I just wait for the next one. It's not much of an issue to me," said Hurst.

"We want the City of Wichita Falls to show this building is successful by adding flights and adding another airline. We're not there yet," said Wichita Falls Mayor Steven Santellana. "It's kind of the timing where it fell. Post recession, post drought and now we have a little downturn in oil. So, what we're trying to do now is add those passengers back maybe add more flights and then we can probably look to another airline."

The City hired a consulting firm to help them look into another carrier. What they found was that it's going to be costly.

"One of the things we found out in order to even get an airline interested in expanding to a new market, we're looking at a $1 million to $2 million investment in a revenue guarantee," said Wichita Falls Aviation Director John Burrus. "That gives them a comfort level that they're not going to come in and lose money. No business wants to come in and lose money. The thing about it is, that's where things stopped."

An example of what he's talking about happened in Lawton, Oklahoma. Delta Airlines left Lawton in 2009 after 11 months. The Chamber of Commerce and the Lawton Airport gave Delta incentive money to lure Delta's regional carrier to fly passengers to Atlanta.

"The issue there, is as soon as that money ran out, guess what? The air service ran out as well," said Burrus. "So, there is a lot of hesitancy and we've got to find that right fit."

That "right fit" may take a while. Airlines look at what is known in the business as "emplanements," another word for passengers. Wichita Falls is down right now which is why American Eagle flies three daily flights to Dallas-Fort Worth instead of four. Burrus said those three flights are at 90% capacity, and that could bring back the 4th flight.

"As we see the economy improve, there's already discussions with American and American Eagle to bring that fourth flight back," said Burrus. "We've just got to keep the aircraft that are here full, and that's what we're doing."

Fuller flights, and more demand is one thing that Mayor Santellana hopes will come from the White House.

"Now that we have Trump as president, he's talking about increasing our military even more and that translates to more students here," said Mayor Santellana. "We're talking about more bodies who need more flights. That's really what I'm hopeful for too."

A lot of people want Southwest Airlines and Burrus met with officials from Southwest. They told him the airport needed, an average of eight flights a day, and 400,000 people flying in and out of the Falls each year. Right now the Wichita Falls Airport sees about a 10 percent of that.

Officials said they will not give up, but if the economy improves and more people fly in and out, the better the chances are of landing a second carrier become.

Copyright 2017 KAUZ. All Rights Reserved.