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Paducah airport board recommends Contour Aviation as next air service provider

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The board of Paducah’s Barkley Regional Airport voted unanimously Tuesday to recommend Tennessee-based Contour Aviation as its next air service provider.

The Barkley Regional Airport board picked Contour out of three possible contractors – including Boutique Air and Southern Airways Express – to recommend to the U.S. Department of Transportation as its essential air service provider. Pending DOT approval, Paducah passengers could be taking flights to Charlotte, North Carolina, by the end of 2022.

Board chairman Jay Matheny said Contour offered competitive pricing for Barkley customers, a free bag from Paducah to Charlotte and a great opportunity for connecting flights.

“Charlotte is an American Airlines hub. That's got great connectivity up and down the East Coast, south and international destinations and beyond,” he said.

Matheny and the board also hope that Contour – as a company based in Smyrna, Tennessee – can help increase flight reliability, which the chairman says has been an issue with current air service provider SkyWest.

“They're within two hours of the drive but they've also basically committed to having a mechanic here in Paducah, in case something does go amiss and we have to make repairs to a plane,” the chairman said. “They [also] always keep what they call a ‘hot plane’ in Smyrna so if we have a plane here that's inoperable for whatever reason, they're a quick flight from Smyrna, Tennessee, up here to Paducah.”

Ticket prices, Matheny said, have been a big area of focus for the board as they worked to figure out next steps for the regional airport.

“One of the complaints that we hear from people routinely is that flying from Paducah is expensive, and it can be expensive. I freely admit that. There are times where you price a flight out of Paducah and, frankly, it's just not cost effective to fly to Paducah,” Matheny said. “That's one of the things that we're really hoping to do with a new air service carrier and new air service opportunities is trying to make flying out of Paducah not only just convenient as it's always been but also competitive from a price perspective.”

Matheny said there’s also been a commitment from American Airlines to honor some Paducah customers loyalty program status earnings with United Airlines.

Current provider SkyWest announced earlier this year it would stop providing flights to and from Chicago out of the airport. SkyWest will continue to offer flights at Barkley until a new contract is approved.

Contour could begin offering roundtrip flights to Charlotte as soon as October. The Department of Transportation bid approval process is expected to take between 60 and 90 days.

Matheny is hopeful that the building of the new terminal at Barkley will serve as a springboard for the airport to offer more new flights in the future.

“At the end of the day, this is by no means a finish for us,” he said. “I think we'll continue to work hard on service development to give people additional air service opportunities out of Barkley Regional Airport … I think the best is yet to come.”

The Barkley Regional Airport board hopes to contract with Contour for the next three years.

A native of western Kentucky, Operle earned his bachelor's degree in integrated strategic communications from the University of Kentucky in 2014. Operle spent five years working for Paxton Media/The Paducah Sun as a reporter and editor. In addition to his work in the news industry, Operle is a passionate movie lover and concertgoer.
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