Boone County Airport manager Judy McCutcheon introduces (from left) John Freeman and Charles Howell with Great Lakes Airlines prior to their proposal to provide essential air service at the Boone County Airport.
Great Lakes Airlines wants to offer essential air service out of the Boone County Airport, and a representative Friday stressed the company’s connections with larger airlines and a strong argument.
Great Lakes president Charles Howell also told airport board members Friday that the company would fly to Dallas/Fort Worth twice a day and Memphis once, but it might be possible to make two round trips to Memphis and one to DFW each day.
SeaPort Airlines’ sudden Chapter 7 bankruptcy in September left the Boone County Airport without an EAS provider. The Department of Transportation requested proposals from interested providers, but said there would be no federal subsidies for flights to Memphis, which is not considered a medium or large airport hub.
Airport officials have wanted to protect those Memphis flights for FedEx employees and it’s been a big part of discussion with all seven airlines who have made proposals.
Howell said Great Lakes was founded in Iowa about 35 years ago. It flies the twin-engine, turbo-prop 19-seat Beechcraft 1900 aircraft, but with 10 seats removed to avoid requirements that would force Boone County to establish Traffic Safety Administration security and additional fire and crash protection. It’s pressurized to fly at higher altitudes.
He did say the company had filed for an exemption through the Federal Aeronautics Administration to fly a 19-seat aircraft without TSA requirements, but he wasn’t sure if or when the FAA might grant that exemption.
Howell said he had no preconceived notions going into the presentation Friday and was there largely to listen to what local officials need, but he stressed Great Lakes’ interline connections with American Airlines, Delta and United.
Because of those interline agreements, a passenger could book a flight from Harrison to Los Angeles or other major destination through the airlines’ websites.
The airline would list the flight from Harrison to DFW with Great Lakes as basically a taxi service, but the flight from DFW to Los Angeles with the major airline. Harrison doesn’t have TSA, so passengers would still have to go through security at DFW and the major airline flight would actually be a separate ticket.
But it would put Harrison on the major airlines’ maps with Great Lakes as the regional carrier, which would allow people to book other flights as Harrison would already be recognized as an airport of choice. People interested in economic development could also book flights into Harrison.
Fares, Howell said, had been bookmarked at about $99 one way, but those prices could change.
EAS flights are federally subsidized to lower cost for consumers, but Howell said use of those subsidies could be a two-edged sword.
For instance, the cap on subsidies for Harrison is $1,000. A lower fare means the airline is using more of those federal dollars. Howell said that if the airport falls below 5,000 boardings a year, the Department of Transportation could target Harrison and cancel its essential air service.
When asked about flights to Memphis and DFW, Howell said the numbers are negotiable.
For instance, he maintained the Great Lakes would be paid for three round-trip flights each week, so two each day could go to DFW and one to Memphis. However, he said the company could change that to one flight to DFW and two to Memphis.
A previous airline making a proposal said that company had to get special permission from the DOT in order to make one round-trip flight to Memphis each day, but the DOT wouldn’t allow more.
Howell told board members Friday that Great Lakes would be happy to provide simple essential air service, but there is potential to do much more if the airport and community want to expand services.
“We think we’re the right people, especially if you want to grow the market,” Howell said.
Airport board member Dr. Lynn Keener said officials want input from the public regarding where they would like to see an EAS airline fly and whether they would be flying for business or personal reasons. Anyone with input is invited to email McCutcheon at firstname.lastname@example.org
EDITOR’S NOTE: The proposal Friday was the last of seven from airlines. The Boone County Airport Board is scheduled to meet at 1 p.m. Monday to pick an airline to recommend the DOT as the choice for essential air service.