Officials are in talks with air service providers to bring back commercial airline service to Tuscaloosa.

But first, they need some questions answered.

Specifically, how many residents would use the local airport for domestic flights and how much would they be willing to pay? A commercial air provider recently asked for these answers that city officials were unable to provide.

The Tuscaloosa City Council agreed Tuesday to pay Volaire Aviation Consulting $22,500 to find the answers. The fee will be paid with Elevate Tuscaloosa funds generated by the new 1-cent sales tax.

City officials hope to have the results within 60 days, said Infrastructure and Public Services Executive Director Tera Tubbs.

Takeoff TCL, which launched its social media campaign on Monday, is an independent effort to garner support for this service.

"Commercial service to the Tuscaloosa National Airport is a critical step forward for the economic development of this community, both in tourism and industry," said group member Tripp Powell, owner of Kuykendall & Powell Oil Co. "I’m excited that all of these community partners see the need and have taken steps to address it."

A commercial airline has not operated at the airport for more than 20 years.

The contract with Fishers, Indiana-based consultants Volaire takes effect Nov. 1 and is set to last for one year, but the consulting company said it is aware that the city wants these studies completed “as quickly as possible.”

The $7,500 community survey will determine what level of support that commercial air service will get from local residents.

The $15,000 leakage study will look at how many residents from the Tuscaloosa area are now flying out of other locations, such as Birmingham or Columbus, Mississippi.

“If Tuscaloosa had a (commercial service) airport, how many of those flights that are going out of Birmingham would be coming out of here?” Tubbs asked.

Volaire is the same company that the city contracted with in May to help recruit commercial airlines to the region’s airport.

This move included a joint funding agreement with the University of Alabama, the Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama and the Tuscaloosa County Industrial Development Authority not to exceed $40,000.

Tubbs said that the chamber and UA also would help fund the leakage study and community survey.

“For the last couple of years, we have been trying to put feelers out and let people know we are available and would like a commercial airline,” Tubbs said earlier this year.

These efforts launched in earnest in 2016, when the City Council contracted with Sixel Consultants Group to help lure a passenger airline while advising on upgrades to the airport’s existing facilities in order to accommodate the service.

The city paid Sixel Consultants $5,500 to meet with various airlines in an effort to entice one to operate in Tuscaloosa and another $7,500 to consult on what upgrades the airport will need.

It’s unclear when, or if, passenger air service will return to Tuscaloosa, but it has been a topic of discussion among the City Council members off and on for years.

The airport was home to commercial airline service for about 50 years before American Eagle, a regional subsidiary of American Airlines, ceased operations in 1997. Other airlines through the years offered daily flights to regional hubs like Atlanta, Jackson and Memphis.

In 2006, the city paid the Boyd Group consulting firm $8,500 to help lure air service here. After three years, the group was unable to find an interested provider, with easy access to the Birmingham airport via interstate as one of main drawbacks.

The airport was acquired by the city at the end of World War II. The 724-acre property includes two runways, two fixed-base operators, a flight school and a car rental facility.

 

Reach Jason Morton at jason.morton@tuscaloosanews.com or 205-722-0200.