Salina’s passenger air service may be delayed

Resumption of scheduled airline service on April 1 at Salina Regional Airport may be delayed, an airport official said Tuesday.

That’s because the airport can’t get the Transportation Security Administration to provide passenger screening services to the airport that’s about 88 miles north of Wichita.

The TSA, Salina Airport Authority executive director Tim Rogers said, will reconsider if public funds can be used to reimburse it for providing such services.

“TSA denied the request based upon cost,” he said, adding that “until a week, 10 days ago, the TSA never communicated” a funding issue.

TSA did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

The hitch comes less than a month after the airport authority said Great Lakes Airlines would begin providing 12 roundtrip flights a week from Salina to Denver on a 30-seat Embraer EMB-120 turboprop. Cheyenne, Wyo.-based Great Lakes was selected under an Essential Air Service contract with the federal Transportation Department.

Great Lakes will replace SeaPort Airlines, which in January abruptly ended its nonstop service from Salina to Kansas City International Airport under an EAS contract that expires April 1. SeaPort had provided Salina passenger service on a nine-seat turboprop since April 2012. It filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization on Feb. 5.

Rogers said Tuesday that because SeaPort used small aircraft, passenger screening services weren’t required by federal law and TSA ended passenger screening services in Salina.

But with Great Lakes’ larger aircraft, Salina again needs those services.

“Now the TSA has balked at providing screening services for 30-seat aircraft,” Rogers said.

The remedy may be a bill in the House and Senate, titled the TSA Fairness Act, which would mandate TSA to provide passenger screening services at small airports such as Salina. Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Fowler/Hutchinson, is a co-sponsor of the bill.

“We’re working with the support of the Kansas congressional delegation and through (the American Association of Airport Executives) and other airports impacted by the TSA decision … jointly to find a fix,” Rogers said.

Jerry Siebenmark: 316-268-6576, @jsiebenmark