Monday, November 20, 2017

Boutique Air will continue serving the Shoals

MUSCLE SHOALS — U.S. Department of Transportation has decided to continue Boutique Air's Essential Air Service contract to provide commercial air service to the Shoals.

This time, however, the department approved a four-year contract instead of the normal two-year agreement.

Boutique air has served the Shoals since February 2016.

The airline provides daily flights to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and the Nashville International Airport on a nine-passenger Pilatus PC-12 aircraft.

"Because of their outstanding performance, the Northwest Alabama Regional Airport Authority's preference was to recommend a four-year contract with Boutique Air to continue to provide essential air service to the region," Airport Director Barry Griffith said.

Rick Elliott, a member and former chairman of the airport authority, said the committee that selected Boutique, the airline and the Transportation Department all wanted a four-year agreement.

The EAS program provides a government subsidy to the airline for operating in the Shoals and other markets in the U.S. Elliott said the four-year agreement helps the Transportation Department financially.

"They will be able to forecast what financial requierments are going to be in the next four years," he said.

Locally, it gives airport officials some comfort knowing the airline will be in place for the next four years, so long as it meets certain criteria, such as boarding at least 10 passengers per day, and it keeps the per passenger subsidy at or below $200.

"Boutique Air has re-established dependable and affordable air service for Northwest Alabama," Griffith said. "Shoals residents have embraced the service, and our numbers are starting to climb."

The Shoals was issued a show-cause order in September because it was not in compliance with the subsidy cap, but received a waiver from the Transportation Department due to a service hiatus that occurred in fiscal year 2016 after SeaPort Airlines prematurely left the area.

The Transportation Department's order stated that a final order addressing the Shoals' eligibility "will be forthcoming."

Griffith said the subsidy cap has been brought down to near $200.

Elliott said he does not know how long the EAS program will be around, so one day, the community will have to step up to support commercial air service.

"There has to be a willingness on the part of the community to pay their fair share instead of knocking on everybody's door for a handout," he said.

Both Griffith and Elliott said access to air travel is good for business, good for jobs and the financial health of the community. Elliott said it's just as important for people wanting to come to the Shoals as it is to those needing to travel outside the area.

Original article can be found here ➤

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