Great Lakes terminates airline service to Canyonlands Field

Passenger airline service to Canyonlands Field Airport ended abruptly last week, after Great Lakes Airlines informed the facility that it no longer has enough pilots or crewmembers to serve the community.

Airport officials said they’re disappointed by the temporary loss of service. But they noted that the timing could be worse: SkyWest Airlines, the airport’s new Essential Air Service carrier, is scheduled to begin passenger flights between Canyonlands Field and Salt Lake City International Airport on March 2.

The St. George company is still training its employees and putting its local infrastructure in place, so it won’t be prepared to start before that date, according to Canyonlands Field Airport Manager Kelly Braun. But SkyWest representatives told Braun that they will be ready, willing and able to offer reliable service when March 2 rolls around.

SkyWest Corporate Communications Manager Wes Horrocks said the airline remains committed to that starting date.

“We have several teams who are working to get people and equipment in place to ensure a smooth start to our Moab service,” Horrocks said in an email toThe Times-Independent. “We know how important reliable air service is to help drive economic development in communities like Moab and look forward to the first SkyWest flights taking off on March 2.”

The weeks between mid-January and early March are typically a slow time of year at the airport, Braun said, adding that he expects only a small number of passengers will be affected by the interruption of service.

As for those who were planning to fly to or from Canyonlands Field in late January or February, Braun advises them to book their flights through Walker Field in Grand Junction or the Salt Lake City International Airport.

“Those options are understandably not the most ideal because they involve lengthy ground transport, but until scheduled service is restored by SkyWest in March those are the only options currently available,” he said in an email toThe Times-Independent.

Great Lakes Airlines initially planned to continue its service until SkyWest was ready to take over in March. But Great Lakes CEO Chuck Howell informed Braun on Jan. 15 that the company is reeling from two recently enacted federal regulations that created a “severe shortage” of pilots.

The first congressionally mandated regulation, which took effect last August, requires co-pilots to have at least 1,500 hours of experience as pilots before they can serve passenger airlines.

Since that time, Howell said the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) implemented additional flight duty and time rules that hampered its service even further.

According to Howell, Great Lakes employed 304 pilots one year ago. But as of this month, just 100 or so Great Lakes pilots were still on the job, and the company has only managed to hire four qualified employees since last summer, according to Howell.

“This is a national crisis and we are being affected foremost,” he said in an email to Braun.

Howell acknowledged that service to Canyonlands Field has suffered in recent months, noting that Great Lakes was unable to perform a majority of its flights.

“We sincerely apologize that it has gotten to this point and we would not have envisioned it ending this way but we can no longer disservice (sic) our customers and your community,” he wrote.

Grand County Airport Board chairman Bill Groff said he accepts Howell’s explanation regarding the termination of service.

Although SkyWest already complies with the new federal rules, the regulations appear to be crippling the region’s airline industry as a whole, Groff said.

“Everybody is hurting now, except for SkyWest,” he said.

For more information about future SkyWest service, go to: www.skywest.com. The carrier is planning to offer two daily nonstop flights between Canyonlands Field and Salt Lake City International Airport on Thursdays through Mondays. One daily roundtrip flight will be available on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

Redtail Aviation is also continuing to offer on-demand charter flights. More information is available by calling 435-259-7421, or by visiting www.redtailaviation.com.

ByBy Rudy Herndon

Staff Writer