Friday, December 22, 2017

United Airlines: Essential Air Service contract to Denver International Airport (KDEN) awarded

Now boarding for Denver: United Airlines flights are cleared for takeoff to DIA starting March 1.

In the calculations of the U.S. Department of Transportation, a roughly $472,000 difference in price tag trumped the stated desires of Cody Yellowstone Air Improvement Resources, the Yellowstone Regional Airport board, the City of Cody and Park County Commissioners to continue with winter service to Salt Lake City provided by Delta subsidiary Skywest.

DOT announced Thursday that for the next two years starting March 1, the Department’s Essential Air Service contract will be awarded to United Airlines to operate 14 weekly flights from YRA to Denver International Airport.

United had offered the service in exchange for an annual federal subsidy of $850,000, while Skywest had requested about $1.321 million to operate the same number of flights to Salt Lake.

Summer tourism sells enough seats that the subsidy is only in effect eight months out of the year.

After receiving bids for the contract from Skywest and United in mid-October, weeks of discussion among members of the YRA board and CYAIR ultimately led to early November votes wherein both bodies elected to write letters in support of Skywest.

Representatives of each group said they’d come to expect delayed flights and hardball negotiating tactics from United, while Skywest had been easy to deal with and reliable.

Although CYAIR member and Cody Mayor Matt Hall objected at those meetings that the cheaper Denver deal made more sense, the City of Cody ultimately also signed a letter in support of Skywest.

Then the Park County Commissioners voted 3-2 to also support the Salt Lake City service. Commissioners Joe Tilden, Loren Grosskopf and chair Lee Livingston all voted in favor of Skywest’s service, while commissioners Tim French and Jake Fulkerson favored United on economic grounds.

With that vote, the commissioners, the city, the YRA board and nonprofit CYAIR had all lined up behind Delta’s offer.

Federal regulations require the DOT to give “substantial weight” to the opinions of such local leaders when awarding EAS contracts.

Public opinion, as measured by comments submitted on the proposals on a DOT website bent toward United, however.

Of 21 official comments submitted, 13 favored United to five supporting Skywest. Three comments merely expressed support for or dissatisfaction with the EAS program overall.

In a Dec. 21 decision released by the DOT, the Department cited price point as a decisive factor in going with the Denver carrier.

“While the Department of Transportation places weight on the comments of the community, it is not the only consideration,” reads part of a letter sent from YRA manager Bob Hooper following the decision.

That echoes DOT language from the decision: “The Department cannot reasonably justify such an increase in annual subsidy when United’s proposal offers Cody passengers virtually the same service and product (14 weekly nonstop round trips using 50-passenger regional jet aircraft to a large hub airport).”

Hooper wrote, “It is important that the Department be mindful of its fiduciary responsibilities.”

Both carriers are expected to continue providing unsubsidized summer service.

“The Yellowstone Regional Airport expects United and Skywest Airlines to work together to make a smooth transition with no service hiatus,” Hooper wrote.

Original article can be found here ➤

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