PIKEVILLE, Kentucky — Nearly five months after Appalachian Air celebrated its first flight from Pikeville, Kentucky, to Nashville, Tennessee, officials say a marketing campaign is necessary to try to jump-start the airline's slow take off.
Consultant Luke Schmidt told the Pikeville-Pike County Airport board last week that continued low ridership is spurring the move. He recommended a $220,000 proposal that would include cable TV commercials.
Ridership on the daily round-trip flights from Pikeville to Nashville hasn't been near projections. There were 78 passengers in the month of December and 73 in January, less than half of what was expected. In February, there were only 17 passengers; ridership was projected at 139.
". If we don't push behind (Appalachian Air), at some point, either the service is not going to be sustainable or it's going to go away," he said. "We cannot operate like this forever. What we've got to do is we've got to get more people on the planes ."
The Appalachian News-Express (http://bit.ly/1H2gZIW) reports board members approved spending $160,000 for the marketing plan and said it would seek partners for the rest after some expressed concern about the price.
New board member Brad Hall urged board members to approve funding the proposal in full.
"If we play it too safe, this will fail," Hall said, adding that Appalachian Air likely is the last chance the community will have to establish and keep commercial air service.
Board Chairman Bill Hickman agreed.
"This is it," Hickman said. "There is no other pot of gold at the end of the rainbow."
Schmidt said ridership in March has been up due to the Southeastern Conference men's college basketball tournament, which was held in Nashville.
He noted that it would be important to attract passengers to fly to Pikeville from Nashville and not just to Nashville from Pikeville.
Officials have said they hope the commercial air service will help boost the region's economy.
Information from: Appalachian News-Express, http://www.news-expressky.com