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Commercial flights likely to remain absent at Purdue airport

May 9, 2016

Purdue University Airport's runways are the second-busiest in Indiana, but commercial flights aren't expected to return to the facility anytime soon, according to the airport's departing director.

The 20-year master plan for the airport doesn't make contingencies for commercial air service, airport director Betty Stansbury told the Journal & Courier of Lafayette. And she doesn't think that will change after she leaves to become executive director of The Pitt-Greenville Airport in North Carolina.

Stansbury said it's difficult to attract interest from airlines since the airport's last commercial flight in 2004 followed a long string of carriers unable to make a profit. But she said the airport "would certainly be receptive if one showed interest."

The airport has been focusing on physical improvements, research and education, rather than courting commercial airlines. A survey of the community two years ago found that residents wanted the airport to offer educational opportunities, not passenger service.

Nate Hahn, director of operations at Evansville Regional Airport, said the community has the final word on whether a commercial service will succeed. Although the airport solicits community feedback regularly, he said use by the community ultimately determines continued service.

"To any community that feels they need service, you have to prove your desire for that actual service," Hahn said. "If you are just a normal resident and you are more willing to drive to an airport rather than fly local, what you're proving to the airlines is that they don't need to fly to your airport because they're already getting you on the plane."

Ultimately, a commercial airline's success comes down to being able to "put butts in seats," said Scott Hinderman, executive director of Fort Wayne International Airport.

This area is where the Purdue University Airport has struggled, especially due to the Lafayette area's proximity to Indianapolis and Chicago.

"We're lucky to have service from three great airports," Stansbury said. "The Indianapolis airport, O'Hare and Midway provide comprehensive coverage."

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