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TSA should expedite return of Klamath air service

It's bad enough that air service to a small community airport is at the mercy of business decisions by commercial airlines. It's even worse that, after local officials work tirelessly to convince another carrier to start providing flights, federal bureaucracy could mean the difference between success and failure for the new service.

Crater Lake-Klamath Regional Airport in Klamath Falls has been without commercial air service since SkyWest Airlines pulled out in June 2014. Last month, Alaska-based Peninsula Air, also known as PenAir, announced it would begin offering flights as early as November.

But Klamath Falls officials are learning the hard way that it's not enough to lure a new carrier to the airport if the feds drag their feet.

Under federal aviation regulations, the Transportation Security Administration must re-establish passenger and baggage security screenings before flights can resume. And that, apparently, is easier said than done.

Klamath Falls officials won't know until late this month whether the TSA will even restore screening. Even if it does, it could be at least January, possibly later, before everything is in place.

That's not only frustrating to Klamath Falls residents who have been unable to fly without driving to another airport, It could cost the airport a significant amount in lost grant money.

If the Klamath Falls airport can reach 10,000 passenger boardings in 2016, the airport would be eligible for $1 million in grants from the Federal Aviation Administration. If it falls short of that number, it will be eligible for only $150,000 for capital improvements. The longer the delay in resuming flights, the harder it will be to achieve the necessary number of boardings.

Oregon Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, along with Rep. Greg Walden, have written a letter to the TSA urging it to resume screening and to do so no later than Jan. 1.

Air service is essential for the Klamath Falls economy, and the stronger its economy, the better for the region as a whole, including the Rogue Valley.