Shoals leaders fight for airport to remain essential

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MUSCLE SHOALS, Ala. (WHNT) – The fate of the Northwest Alabama Regional Airport is up in the air as the federal government decides if the airport is essential to the area.

A drastic drop in boarding’s has Shoals leaders trying to re-group as they prepare for the departure of Silver Airways.

An empty terminal building and vacant ticket desk helps paint the picture of what’s going on at the airport.

Despite upgrades inside and out, boarding’s have plummeted to an average of 3 per day.

The U.S. Department of Transportation has pulled the Shoals from the Essential Air Service Program which subsidizes commercial air service in smaller communities.

“We’re confident, we have no doubt we can turn these boarding’s back around with the things you have to have, cost competitive tickets and on time delivery,” stated Steve Holt with the Shoals Chamber of Commerce.

According to Holt, airport board members have filed a waiver with the Department of Transportation for reconsideration.

He says Silver Airways has given the airport less than a stellar performance in the two years they have serviced the airport with flights to Atlanta.

And that has led to the drop in daily boarding’s.

“I’m going to be positive and anticipate we will get at least a one year waiver. Then we will have to perform, we will have to prove that we can change those boarding’s to a growth situation,” said Holt.

Despite their attempt to leave in July, Silver Airways must service the airport until at least early September while the Transportation Department considers the waiver.

If the airport is granted a waiver, they plan to sign a contract with SeaPort Airlines to provide four daily flights to and from Nashville.

Board members hope to get word about the waiver in the coming weeks.