As it celebrates its 10th year of providing daily jet service from Barkley Regional Airport to Chicago's O'Hare International, SkyWest Airlines has been awarded a new, three-year contract.
On Feb. 11, 2010, SkyWest, flying under the United Express banner, brought jet service back to Paducah for the first time since the 1970s.
The Utah-based airline was just awarded the new contract by the U.S. Department of Transportation as part of its Essential Air Service program, which provides service to smaller communities which would otherwise operate at a loss.
"When de-regulation came, the entire industry changed," said George Bray, Barkley Regional Airport Authority board chairman.
"SkyWest looked at this market, expressed confidence in this market, and committed to this market. It's been very stable for SkyWest throughout our 10-year relationship," he said.
"They have been an excellent partner for Barkley Regional Airport, and we're just tickled to death that they've made this commitment and we look forward to the next 10 years."
Under the new contract, SkyWest will provide 14 nonstop round trips per week between Paducah and Chicago, using a Bombardier CRJ-200 aircraft.
With SkyWest's projected revenue of $3,774,000, and expenses projected at $6,591,809, the EAS subsidy will be $3,117,436 annually, according to the Department of Transportation.
Since 2010, almost 30,000 trips and over 400,000 passengers have traveled between Paducah and Chicago, and SkyWest has completed 96% of scheduled flights, according to Barkley officials.
According to Dennis Rouleau, airport executive director, "SkyWest and United have made it possible for everyone in our region to get anywhere in the world, and back home again, with just one stop.
"This level of connectivity is something that other communities wish they had and is an important factor in the growth of the region, both in the last 10 years and moving forward."
Both Rouleau and Bray point to the planned construction of a new passenger terminal at Barkley Regional as an opportunity for more growth for the airport and west Kentucky.
"We are excited about what lies ahead for Barkley and the region, from the new terminal to other improvements, we are looking to improve the experience for our passengers," Rouleau said.
According to Bray, SkyWest's business model allows it to fly under multiple banners like Delta and American, in addition to United.
"I don't think we've explored all the opportunities for partnership with SkyWest," Bray said. "I think there is some untapped potential here.
"While building a new terminal, in and of itself, does not establish the demand for a new flight, it gives SkyWest confidence that this community is committed to air service. That gives them confidence to explore other opportunities as they arise."