Friday, January 17, 2014

Jamestown Regional Airport (KJMS), North Dakota: Feds question decision to switch airline provider

JAMESTOWN, N.D. - The Jamestown Airport Authority may have to send a delegation to Washington, D.C., later this month to answer questions about the bid from SkyWest Airlines to provide commercial passenger service to the airport.

The Airport Authority approved Wednesday covering the expenses of sending Chairman Jim Boyd, Jamestown Regional Airport Manager Matt Leitner and Mayor Katie Andersen to Washington toward the end of January. Boyd said he and Leitner had a conference call with members of Sen. Heidi Heitkamp’s, D-N.D., office about the bids submitted by SkyWest Airlines and Great Lakes Airlines to provide passenger service to Jamestown Regional Airport starting April 1.

An airline provides passenger service to Jamestown Regional Airport under the Federal Aviation Administration’s Essential Air Service program. Under the EAS program the airline receives a subsidy to cover the expense of providing passenger service to small airports around the country. Airports in the EAS program seek bids every two years, and interested airlines bid to provide passenger service.

The bids are advertised, reviewed and awarded by the United States Department of Transportation for the FAA. Boyd said DOT officials have some concerns about the SkyWest Airlines bid.

Great Lakes Airlines, which currently provides service to Jamestown Regional Airport, submitted a bid to continue providing service to JRA with three roundtrip flights daily from Devils Lake/Jamestown to Minneapolis, using 19-seat turboprop airplanes. According to Leitner, this bid meets the DOT’s minimum bid requirement for turboprop airplanes.

The SkyWest Airlines bid is a one flight daily roundtrip from Denver to Jamestown using a 50-seat jet airplane. The DOT minimum bid for a 50-seat jet airplane service to Jamestown is two daily flights.

Boyd said another potential problem with the SkyWest bid is the airline would require a higher subsidy from the federal government because its airplane would be traveling a greater distance.

On Jan. 6 the Airport Authority recommended the SkyWest Airlines bid to the DOT. The Airport Authority’s commercial air service committee, made up of Boyd, Vice Chairman Jeff Wilhelm and member Brent Harris, solicited letters of support for the SkyWest bid from local government, business and community groups.

Boyd said he hopes the state’s congressional representatives, including Heitkamp, Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., and Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., will be able to answer questions from DOT officials about the SkyWest bid.

“We may not need to go,” he said.

Leitner said service from Great Lakes Airlines continues to be a problem, as the airline has announced it will be eliminating weekend flights starting in February. The airline will continue to offer two flights daily Monday through Friday, but will not have any flights on Saturdays and only one late-night flight coming in on Sundays.

Great Lakes Airlines continues to have problems getting full flight crews for its flights due to changes in FAA requirements for co-pilots. In July the FAA increased the minimum number of flight hours a co-pilot must have in order to be part of a flight crew for a passenger flight from 250 hours to 1,500 hours. The change has put qualified co-pilots in high demand for all airlines.


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