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Saturday, July 12, 2008

The City Hall Cargo Cult: City officials respond to Delta's termination of service

Delta to ground flights out of Salem airport

After just one year of service, flights will stop Oct. 10

In a crushing blow to city officials who had tried for years, and finally succeeded, to get passenger air service restored, Delta Air Lines told Salem officials Friday that it was leaving.

Odd to spint this as a "crushing blow" to city officials -- who, after all, put none of their own money at risk on this doomed venture. Even stranger, they intend to press on, pouring millions down the drain by turning the airport into something like the "Monument to a Brief Period of Scheduled Service in Salem."
The response to passenger air service shows Salem is a strong, viable market for an airline, city officials assert, and efforts will continue to pursue more air service.

"We don't have anyone knocking on our door at this moment," Woods said.

Salem is one of the many small cities that have seen reductions in air service.

Earlier this week, Delta Airlines said it would end its twice-daily nonstop flights between Los Angeles and Eugene, as of Sept. 1. Travelers along Oregon's southwestern coast also learned just days ago that Horizon Air was ending its direct flights from North Bend to Portland. Airports in Klamath Falls and Pendelton have also been notified of service cuts.

"Our only solace is we are not alone," said Ray Burstedt, president of the Strategic Economic Development Corp., the local economic-development agency. The business community had pushed to restore passenger air service in Salem because it's an important tool to help recruit new employers.

"I don't think it's going to kill us, but it's always easier with air service," Burstedt said.

Salem Mayor Janet Taylor said she was disappointed by Delta's decision to stop serving the city, but not discouraged about the airport's prospects. The city will move forward with plans to make major airport upgrades.

"We have to position ourselves for the future. We just can't fold," Taylor said.

In June, the city received a state grant to help make $4.75 million worth of improvements at the airport, including a longer runway and a larger terminal.

City officials, however, said a plan to use as much as $130,000 in hotel tax funds for a renewed airport marketing effort this year will be put on hold. Meanwhile, Salem leaders will continue to talk with Delta in hopes of getting the airline to reverse its plans.

Imagine the reaction if the school district announced that, despite the decision to close a school, officials planned to spend more than $4 million to upgrade the classroom facilities, "justified" by the logic that only 1% of the money is from the local tax coffers. I can't imagine that there are that many people in Salem who think it's OK to waste money if it comes from the Federal till rather than the city's, but we'll see. It could be that admitting the new reality is just too much, and that people would rather be like those cargo cults in the South Pacific, the primitive tribes who build entire fake airfields from bamboo in an effort to lure back the planes that brought all the strange and wonderful cargo.