SOMERSET, Ky — The mayors of Somerset, London, and Corbin, in partnership with their airport boards and economic development authorities, formed a regional alliance today to bring commercial air service to Lake Cumberland Regional Airport in Somerset and recruit air cargo service to the London-Corbin Airport.
By signing a Memorandum of Understanding, these leaders have agreed to ask federal legislators to transfer London-Corbin Airport’s dormant federal Essential Air Service (EAS) designation to Lake Cumberland Regional Airport and allow it to be reactivated. Doing so would help the tri-city region compete nationally on tourism, economic development, and quality-of-life initiatives, Somerset-Pulaski Economic Development Authority (SPEDA) President and CEO Chris Girdler said.
“It is very exciting to see our communities form an alliance and look for ways we can collaborate,” Girdler said. “I commend the leaders of Somerset, London, and Corbin for their vision, leadership, and willingness to work together to accomplish similar goals. We can do so much more together than if we go it alone. This MOU is indicative of many more good things to come and I believe it will help our federal and state officials assist us in improving the quality of life for our region’s citizens.”
The EAS program was established after airline deregulation in 1978 to guarantee small communities served by certified air carriers at that time maintain a minimal level of scheduled air service. The U.S. Department of Transportation is mandated to provide EAS communities with access to the National Air Transportation System, generally accomplished by subsidizing two round trips a day with 30- to 50-seat aircraft to a large- or medium-hub airport. While London-Corbin Airport has this designation, it has not been used for some time, Girdler said.
With the EAS designation transfer, Somerset officials would begin actively recruiting commercial air service to Lake Cumberland Regional Airport, while London and Corbin officials focus on their long-established mission of general aviation service (or civilian flying) and recruiting air cargo service. Girdler said Somerset’s record-setting tourism numbers, community growth, and airport infrastructure — as well as air carriers’ desire to restructure routes as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic — have provided some positive and productive conversations with major airline carriers thus far.
“Lake Cumberland Regional Airport in Somerset is perfectly situated and ready on day one to welcome commercial air service, while the London-Corbin Airport is positioned and prepared to be an amazing regional hub, utilizing its airport and adjacent industrial property as a perfect location for air freight and cargo,” Girdler said. “SPEDA stands ready and willing to help the communities of London and Corbin to attract that type of use to their airport and we appreciate their support in our efforts to recruit a commercial air carrier. SPEDA will do everything possible to attract a well-known commercial airline to Somerset.”
Somerset Mayor Alan Keck, also a member of SPEDA’s board of directors, said bringing commercial air service to Somerset will be a major step forward in enhancing the quality of life and the economy in Somerset and the tri-city region.
“I am so appreciative to the leaders of London and Corbin for seeing the benefit in transferring the option for commercial air service to Somerset and building a region that has a significant economic impact in passenger travel and air cargo,” Keck said. “Together we will make our region shine as a place where businesses and industries come to grow and thrive.”
Richard Van Hook, chairman of the Somerset-Pulaski County Airport Board, echoed Mayor Keck’s sentiments.
“The Somerset-Pulaski County Airport Board and Lake Cumberland Regional Airport appreciate Somerset, London, and Corbin leaders for joining together with a vision to bring commercial air service to Somerset,” he said. “Investment in our communities enhances future growth and economic development, we are looking forward to working together with the team to make this a reality.”
London Mayor Troy Rudder said the multi-county collaboration will strengthen the area’s aviation options. “Establishing this regional airport will not only provide an option for air travel closer to home but will create jobs and increase tourism,” he said. Paula Thompson, executive director of the London-Laurel County Economic Development Authority, said she is eager to see the impact this transition will have on the region.
“How exciting it is to see how our combined efforts come together on a project that will impact and support economic development in our region,” Thompson said.
Thompson’s counterpart in Corbin, Corbin Economic Development Agency Executive Director Bruce Carpenter, said the significance of this alliance and working together to benefit the entire region cannot be understated.
“We are pleased to play a role in the endeavor to bring commercial airline service to the Lake Cumberland Regional Airport and look forward to continued cooperation within this alliance to further economic development efforts in southern Kentucky,” Carpenter said. Corbin Mayor Suzie Razmus said the alliance is a leading example of effective community collaboration.
“I’m happy to see our communities working together for the benefit of the region, recognizing each airport’s unique set of circumstances and how we can collectively maximize their chances for growth and continued success,” Razmus said.