The agency announced last week that it has selected SkyWest Airlines to provide Essential Air Service (EAS) to Canyonlands Field Airport. SkyWest’s contract will begin early next year and run through Dec. 31, 2015.
The St. George-based carrier plans to begin twice-daily service between Moab and Salt Lake City in early March 2014, according to SkyWest Corporate Communications Director Marissa Snow.
Word of the department’s announcement came as a big relief to Grand County Airport Board chairman Bill Groff, who believes that SkyWest will be a major asset to tourists, local residents and business owners alike.
Everyone else he knows is elated, as well, he said.
“There wasn’t one person who was negative about it,” he said Dec. 10. “Everybody’s quite excited, from the governor on down.”
That includes Moab Area Travel Council Executive Director Marian DeLay.
“We think that the SkyWest name will make a major difference [for] people who are planning their trips,” she said. “Some of the businesses are already putting it out there [that Sky West will be serving Canyonlands Field.]”
SkyWest was one of three companies that submitted EAS proposals to serve the airport. The current carrier, Great Lakes Aviation, turned in the lowest bid of $1,657,570, compared to SkyWest’s bid of just over $2.3 million. A third bid from Boutique Air, which included seven service options, ranged from more than $3.75 million to just over $5.1 million.
But the difference in prices was ultimately just one of six main factors that federal transportation officials considered as they made their decision.
The agency noted that the community is firmly behind SkyWest’s plans – so much so that it offered to forego one round-trip flight per week if it meant the Utah-based airline could serve the area. At the same time, the DOT noted that it heard from community members and local business leaders who came forward to criticize the reliability of Great Lakes’ service.
“We are concerned about the reliability issues that Moab has experienced with Great Lakes and its negative impacts on the community,” the federal agency wrote in its decision.
Great Lakes currently uses 19-seat planes to fly passengers between Moab and Denver, and the company had no plans to change its operations, according to the bid it submitted.
On the other hand, the DOT found that SkyWest would be in a better position to handle steadily increasing passenger traffic at Canyonlands Field, since it will be using 30-seat Embraer Brasilia planes. The fact that those planes will be flying to and from Salt Lake City, as opposed to Denver, was another feather in SkyWest’s cap.
“Whereas Salt Lake City is both the state capital of Utah and … has significantly more commercial ties to Moab than does Denver, it unquestionably has an advantage under this guideline,” the agency’s decision stated.
Groff is among those who believe that Moab will be better served by flights to and from Salt Lake City.
Under the company’s codeshare agreement with Delta Air Lines, SkyWest passengers will have an easier time flying to and from many international destinations such as Tokyo, for example, Groff said.
“That in itself is a big step for us,” he said.
Groff is also confident that SkyWest plans to actively market the community as a destination for its customers to visit.
“They think that Moab is equal to a place like West Yellowstone,” he said.
Since the company will be flying bigger planes to and from Canyonlands Field, Groff has reason to hope that the airport’s enplanement numbers will climb, as well.
If that happens and the facility crosses the magical 10,000-enplanement mark, Groff anticipates that federal funding for capital improvement projects will jump from $150,000 to $1 million a year.
In the past, Groff has gone to bat for Great Lakes Aviation. But he said he believes the carrier’s service began to suffer as the result of a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) ruling. As mandated by the Airline Safety and FAA Extension Act of 2010, the agency now requires co-pilots to have at least 1,500 hours of experience as a pilot before they can serve passenger airlines.
“Great Lakes did a great job [initially],” Groff said. “They’ve fallen by the wayside recently because of that ruling.”
That won’t be a problem as far as SkyWest is concerned, he said, adding that the company already operates smoothly under the new guideline.