1: Is Salem’s airport large enough for commercial air service? Is the runway long enough?
At 5,811 feet, the main runway is over one mile long (longer than the runway at Orange County/John Wayne Airport) and can easily accommodate the regional aircraft we would see in Salem. It can even handle 737s.
2: How much public money is being spent on this effort?
As of April 2022, no general fund dollars have been spent on this. It’s been a broad, private-sector community effort and will continue to be so. There will be some City staff time needed to help coordinate the effort, because the City of Salem owns the airport. Funding to date includes private contributions, and a $500,000 grant from the Oregon Department of Aviation funded with aviation fuel taxes. The committee plans to raise all necessary funds with 1) local contributions 2) economic development contributions from area cities and counties, and 3) state and federal grants. It’s important to note that revenue created at the airport is not able to be spent on other priorities like public safety or homeless efforts.
3: Didn’t this fail last time? Why do it again?
Actually, no, it didn’t fail. Salem lost Delta air service in 2008 due to external factors not related to Salem – the tripling of the price of oil, and the impending recession. The Salem area did support the service and proved itself a viable market. At the same time service ceased in Salem, dozens of other communities lost their service due to the same factors. The Delta service was a success and now we have even stronger demographics and a stronger, more diverse economy.
4: What Airlines will we get?
The first carriers to serve Salem (SLE) will be in the ultra-low-cost market segment (ULCC). Carriers in this segment include Allegiant, Avelo, Breeze, Frontier, Jet Blue, and Spirit among others. The original Strategic Plan indicated our goal of a “Major Carrier to a Major Hub” would align with United or Alaska, or with regional carrier powerhouse SkyWest in conjunction with either of those. Due to the pilot shortage 2024 is likely to be the best timeline for this type of carrier.
5: What destinations will I be able to reach?
The initial destinations will depend on which carrier brings new service. Interested carriers would be able to provide non-stops to our top 4 destinations in LA Basin, Las Vegas, Phoenix, and SF Bay Area, starting with one and building from there. The original Strategic Plan identified the United hubs at SFO (San Francisco) or DEN (Denver), and the Alaska hub in SEA (Seattle) as the most promising destinations to connect Salem to the entire world. We have also spoken to American about flights to the PHX hub.
6: Why do we have to raise money?
We’re in competition with communities all over North America that are trying to recruit airlines to their area. We need to create a recruitment package that a) demonstrates regional, political, and business community support, b) a plan to market the service, and c) a Minimum Revenue Guarantee (MRG) fund to backfill any potential revenue deficiencies.
7: Who is Fly Salem?
About 10 Salem community members and business leaders are on the Fly Salem Steering Committee. The anchor members are a collaboration of The Salem Area Chamber of Commerce, Travel Salem, the City of Salem Airport Manager, and the Strategic Economic Development Corporation (SEDCOR). These represent our region’s business community, economic development, and tourism advocates in addition to the airport owner (The City). The committee is volunteer and has no staff or budget.
8: What’s the timeline?
As of Spring 2022, we believe one carrier will start service in 2022. There are multiple highly interested carriers, and all could start new service within 24 months. As we have learned from the setbacks, there are a lot of moving parts and we will adjust and continue to advocate.
9: Why has it taken so long?
We began this effort and raising private funds in 2017. We first met with airline representatives at air service conferences in 2019. Unanticipated setbacks include the grounding of all 737 MAX aircraft (2019); the COVID 19 Pandemic (2020-2022); The Pilot Shortage (2021-ongoing); and the Ukraine War (2022) causing fuel price hikes and uncertainty. We are subject to the grant cycles, carriers’ decision-making calendars, the TSA setting up screening, the return of business passenger demand, and available pilots and aircraft. It is crucial that we maintain dedicated MRG pledges so when the time comes, we can call on you to contribute.
10: What will tickets cost? Will they be more expensive than PDX flights?
We anticipate the low-cost (ULCC) carriers fares will be lower than flights from PDX, likely under $99 each way, but, we can’t know what the cost will be given for any destination. For Major Legacy airlines, we should anticipate that fares could be higher than PDX. However, fares will be offset by the saving of night-before hotel stays, expensive parking, gasoline, and- more than anything- time. Salem will be a better value for many travelers.