Idaho lawmaker wants panel to look at boosting air service

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BOISE, Idaho (AP) — An Idaho lawmaker wants his colleagues to take a closer look at ways to improve air travel across the state.

Currently no airports in Idaho — including the largest, in Boise — offer direct commercial flights to any other Idaho city.

That means travelers heading from one part of Idaho to another must fly out-of-state first or make an hours-long drive through sometimes treacherous terrain.

The Lewiston Tribune reports Sen. Dan Johnson, a Republican from Lewiston, has proposed an interim legislative committee to help develop a long-term strategy for intrastate commercial air service. The Senate Transportation Committee authorized the legislation on Tuesday, sending it to the Senate floor.

The proposal is modeled in part on steps Wyoming took to maintain and expand its commercial air access. Shawn Burke, the Wyoming Department of Transportation air service development manager, said the states face similar demographic and geographic challenges.

“Since 2013, we’ve lost about 15 percent of our (commercial airline) capacity,” Burke said during an Idaho Chamber Alliance luncheon on Tuesday. “We needed to do something to retain air service in these communities.”

One Wyoming program provides $1.3 million a year for marketing grants, airport improvement projects and airline revenue guarantees. The other is a $15 million appropriation from the Wyoming Legislature for a contract with SkyWest Airlines to provide air service to four communities.

Burke said the money offsets some of the risk involved in serving smaller markets, while the contract also allows the state to share in some of the profits.

Johnson's resolution could come up for a Senate vote as early as Friday. If it passes, it will go to the House for further action.

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