Airline service could resume in Salem by next summer

After more than a decade without passenger service, airline flights to Oregon’s capital city could resume by next summer.

City officials say two carriers have expressed interest in starting service to several destinations in the southwest United States. But in order for those to begin, the Salem Airport terminal needs some upgrades because the new flights would be on larger planes than those that previously served Salem.

“There’s a little bit of a push and a pull there on which way the city wants to go, how much money it wants to invest in its infrastructure, into the terminal primarily but also the parking facilities, without knowing if air service is going to be sustainable here,” airport manager John Paskell told the Oregon Aviation Board Thursday. “We hope that it will be. We think that it will be. But of course there’s a big, at-risk investment for the city.”

The Salem Airport terminal has not seen regular passenger service since 2011.

Chris M Lehman / AP

Paskell said airport officials will go before the Salem City Council in January to outline the case for city funding to advance the upgrades. He said the airport also needs to update its security plans and to purchase equipment to service the aircraft. Funding for some of those purchases has already been approved in the form of a $540,000 grant from the Aviation Board.

A business group in Salem has also been raising funds to support the efforts to attract new airline service. The leader of the group, Brent DeHart, wrote in testimony submitted to the Aviation Board that the group has concerns about whether the city will be ready in time for service to begin by the summer.

At least one of the airlines, wrote DeHart, “has indicated that if it can’t start (Salem) service by June 1, then they will assign their available aircraft to another market.”

DeHart said his group’s conversations with potential airlines have led them to believe service would initially be twice a week to Las Vegas and the “Los Angeles basin,” with…

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