The "Fly Butte" initiative to raise funds for a airline flight guarantee fund has raised more than $100,000, its leaders say — but another $80,000 or so is needed.
"The community response has been terrific," said Stephanie Sorini, Chamber of Commerce executive director. "We're almost there. But we've got to hit our target" by the end of October, she added.
Joe Willauer, director of the Butte Local Development Corp., credited the efforts of Don Peoples Sr. and Rick Griffith, who have been meeting with business leaders and others to seek donations.
Businesses as large as NorthWestern Energy, Montana Resources, Butte Aviation, and the Copper King Hotel and as small as mom-and-pop operations are giving to the cause. Individual donors have already made a huge difference as well, Sorini said.
As an example, she pointed out that Dr. James Patterson, 96, a longtime Butte internist, made a sizable donation.
"Dr. Patterson said he hasn't flown for about 15 years but he sees the value in this," Sorini pointed out.
Interestingly, attracting more doctors like Patterson to Butte is a prime benefit of getting more flights.
"Robust air service is critical to St. James Healthcare for the recruitment and retention of highly skilled healthcare professionals, including physicians," said Jay Doyle, president of St. James Healthcare. "Adding a flight to an additional hub airport such as Denver will make it significantly easier to recruit physicians to our community and our region."
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In order to have a chance to attract new flights, Butte is required to put up a minimum revenue guarantee of $385,000. The Tourism and Business Improvement District has committed to making a $200,000 matching investment toward this guarantee. So Butte has to raise the remaining $185,000.
The required investment is not just aimed at one flight, but rather about the process of attracting more and more flights to Butte.
Here's how it works:
By the end of the month, the federal government is expected to announce which Butte flight it will help to subsidize — the current flight to and from Salt Lake City on Delta, or a United Airlines proposal for seasonal Denver-Butte flights.
Whichever airline does not win the federal guarantee will be Butte's first target to offer a revenue guarantee in exchange for scheduling the additional flights. If such an offer is accepted it would mean two different flights for Butte. And if those go well, then the guarantee could be used toward attracting even more flights.
Bozeman, which has developed its airport into a regional center, went through this process a few years ago, raising a $500,000 minimum revenue guarantee fund. They have been able to leverage the fund over and over. They haven't actually had to use the money yet, because the flights have met revenue goals.
So Butte's minimum revenue guarantee, once secured, could end up being employed time and again to attract new flights.
"We are so grateful to all of the people and businesses" making commitments to the guarantee fund, the BLDC's Willauer said.
"We know that when Butte gets behind something, it gets done."