He didn't promise anything, but Gov. Roy Barnes did say Thursday he will see if there are any financial incentives the state can use to increase and improve air service in Augusta, Albany and Columbus.
The governor, who addressed the issue briefly during an interview with The Augusta Chronicle's editorial board, said he heard about Delta Air Lines' decision to pull out of Augusta Regional Airport at Bush Field last week.
"I called in the lobbyist for Delta, and of course his song and dance was: `We're not leaving - we're changing the type of service and the planes, and it's a business decision' and all these other things," Mr. Barnes said. "Let me tell you something, air service is as essential as high-speed Internet access (is) to economic development."
Effective Dec. 1, Delta will no longer provide jet service to Augusta.
Instead, Atlantic Southeast Airlines (a Delta subsidiary) will provide turbo prop service to and from Atlanta, and Comair (another Delta-owned company) will provide new nonstop service to Cincinnati on 50-seat regional jets.
The news was greeted by local airport officials with mixed feelings: Many people are pleased with the new service to Cincinnati, which is Delta's second-largest hub, but they are disappointed the 150-seat MD-88 jets will no longer fly from Augusta to Atlanta.
The governor said Albany and Columbus are dealing with the same issues.
"I'm a big believer that the one way government changes (business) policies is by providing financial incentives, and this is one area we ought to look at for providing air service," Mr. Barnes said. "Savannah has no problems. Savannah has become the second-largest airport in Georgia. It's Albany, Augusta and Columbus that need help."
The Augusta Aviation Commission and the Air Service Task Force are now working together to try and lure new airlines to Augusta to help fill the void left by Delta.
Reach Justin Martin at (706) 823-3552.
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