The U.S Department of Transportation (DOT) has received bids for the Essential Air Service (EAS) contract for Moab’s Canyonlands Field airport. Great Lakes Aviation, Redtail Aviation and Boutique Air all hope to become Moab’s EAS provider, and the public now has the opportunity to weigh in on those proposals and submit comments to the DOT.
Canyonlands Field Airport Manager Judd Hill told the Grand County Council on Tuesday, Jan. 20 that he will carefully review the bids with the Grand County Airport Board on Feb. 2 and soon make a formal recommendation to the council.
Of the three airline carriers who submitted bids, Great Lakes is the largest, proposing two direct round-trip flights to Denver each day on a 30-passenger aircraft. Great Lakes’ bid requests a $2,245,247 subsidy from the EAS program, according to documents filed with the DOT.
At the Jan. 20 council meeting, some members of the public voiced concerns about Great Lakes’ reliability — a primary criticism that arose when Great Lakes held the Moab EAS contract during two separate periods between 2009 and 2014.
Hill said that while Great Lakes’ future reliability is unknown, factors like direct service and a larger aircraft might make a difference for passengers.
“When [Great Lakes] flew here before, they were always en route to somewhere else. We were an intermediary stop to places like Vernal, Elko,” Hill said. “They have looked back and seen what our market can offer them. The [current] bid is a direct flight — we are the destination.”
Hill also noted that Great Lakes’ larger aircraft could handle more difficult weather.
“The majority of their fleet is a 19-seat aircraft but they would dedicate their 30-seat Brasilia to us. That aircraft has the ability to go higher and handle worse winds,” Hill said. “So some of those fringe limitations on weather are handled.”
Great Lakes, because of the size of its planes, would be subject to Transportation Security Administration (TSA) security screening, allowing its planes to land at the main airport terminal and giving passengers the ability to check bags through to their final destination.
The smaller air carriers would not have those options, Hill said.
With Redtail and Boutique, passengers flying out of Moab would land at the hub airport’s general aviation site and then be shuttled to the main terminal, he said.
“When you land, you go to the opposite side of the airport,” said Hill. “There would be a shuttle bus to the main terminal and you go in, just as if a friend were dropping you off. You still have to check in, check baggage, and go through security.”
As for the smaller carriers’ bids, Redtail Aviation offered service via a nine-passenger aircraft with two direct round-trip flights to Salt Lake City five days a week, and an afternoon flight to Las Vegas two days a week. Redtail’s bid was the lowest of the three, at $1,858,685.
Redtail Aviation is currently based out of Canyonlands Field, offering scenic tours and charter service from the Moab airport.
Redtail Aviation President Mark Francis noted in a letter to the DOT that the airline carrier has an established relationship with the Moab community.
“We have a very positive reputation for providing safe, reliable aviation services to the Moab community and have augmented services to the tourism industry which is the backbone of the Moab economy,” Francis wrote. “We will bring that same high level of service to the Essential Air Service program.”
The third carrier that submitted a bid, Boutique Air, proposed service using a nine-passenger aircraft with three direct round-trip flights per day to Salt Lake City. Boutique’s bid came in at $2,523,089, according to documents filed with the DOT.
Based out of San Francisco, Boutique has experience in West Coast charter flights and EAS service in Texas and New Mexico.
Grand County Airport Board member Bob Greenberg said choosing between the air carriers will be difficult for the Moab community.
“It’s going to be a hard choice for the community,” Greenberg said. “Larger planes to Denver or smaller planes to Salt Lake?”
Hill told The Times-Independent that the community can have sway in the DOT’s final decision.
He noted that because of community support, DOT awarded the contract to SkyWest in 2013, even though the airline’s bid was significantly higher than the others who submitted proposals.
“They listened to the community,” said Hill.
Addressing the county council, Hill said, “It is [DOT’s] final say, but your voice has a huge impact on what that final say is.”
Hill said he would work with the council to draft a unified county letter of recommendation to the DOT.
And while Hill cannot guarantee that there will not be a break in air service as Canyonlands Field transitions from one carrier to another, he said he will work for a smooth transition.
“Hopefully it can work out such that whoever takes over can work with SkyWest and facilitate a smooth transition,” said Hill. “The ideal scenario would be April 30, the last SkyWest flight leaves, and a new service [provider] is in by May 1.”
Bids are available to the public on www.regulations.gov. Search for DOT-OST-1997-2827. Comments on the air carriers can be emailed to [email protected] before Feb. 19.
ByBy Molly Marcello