NEW BERN, N.C. (WNCT) — Travel experts say it could take years for the airline industry to return to where it was before the pandemic. But operators of Coastal Carolina Regional Airport believe the key to recovery is a new destination.
Airport officials are pursuing a federal grant. If they get it, they will use it to attract a new airline with flights from New Bern to Washington D.C.
A study conducted by airport managers found the number one group of out-of-state visitors on the Crystal Coast comes from the nation’s capital. They also saw many D.C. travelers have second homes on our coast.
The grant is part of the Department of Transportation Small Community Air Service Development Program. Coastal Carolina Regional is seeking $1 million over two years. The airport would use the money to cover a new airline’s costs for D.C. to New Bern flights.
Managers at the airport said the grant could be a game changer for small airports like Coastal Carolina Regional.
“We can go to a low cost carrier and then we can get the $14 flights. So this is the first step of many to improve air service and huge economic boom to the region,” said Eric Litchfield at Coastal Carolina Regional Airport.
The airport has received support from all over the region to make the Department of Transportation aware of the need for the grant in the area. Employees say they are meeting every requirement for this grant, which includes having higher-than-average fares, receiving local cash contributions, establishing a public-private partnership, letters from local and state leaders and pledges.
Managers believe D.C. flights could add $21 million to the local economy each year and support 140 new jobs. Melissa Riggle is executive director of Craven County’s Tourism Development Authority. Her crew is onboard with the airport’s mission to attract more vacationers and business travelers. She said the new airline would benefit everyone in the region.
“Think about when they’re here, how many people do they come in contact with that are employed? The more services and the more viable options people have to get to Craven County the more opportunities there are for employment,” said Riggle.
Airport officials said they’ll find out if they’re getting the grant in May. If they do, then they can go after an airline. However, airport officials stress there are more stops along the way to the new service.
“It’s going to take a while before they can get their ticket agent, figure out the ground service. We don’t want to start in the winter, we want to start in our seasonal sweet spot,” said Litchfield.
American and United both have hubs in Washington D.C. Southwest Airlines bases a number of flights out of Baltimore-Washington Airport.
Delta Airlines suspended its services last year. Airport officials tell 9OYS they are reaching out to Delta to remind executives that New Bern is a prime destination. There is no word on whether Delta will restart its flights.