Monday, July 6, 2020

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Moab, UT

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    It’s a council’s prerogative to change its mind.

    The Grand County Council voted 4-1-1 to support a letter from SkyWest Airlines that seeks to add the number of daily flights during the peak tourist season and limit them during the winter and summer.

    The decision overturned a rare 2-2-2 vote that took place April 16, when concerns were raised that locals would be inconvenienced by fewer flights during the off months.

    Vice Chair Terry Morse was unable to attend last month’s meeting and asked Canyonlands Field Airport Director Judd Hill to bring the question back so it could be revisited. Hill laid out a more in-depth case for SkyWest Tuesday, telling council members that the seasonal variation was needed to provide more seats in the peak travel times of April-May and September-October, while still making it possible for people to travel to Denver and have to make only one connection from there about 96% of the time in the winter and so-called shoulder months of March, June-August.

    He noted complaints from residents that suggested the variance “only helps guests and hurts locals” were incorrect. He said 100 seats a day are available in the winter months, when air travel is at its lowest out of Moab, while there are far fewer during the peak season because of the higher number of passengers – and the fact that fewer seats are available in the hotter months, when the temperatures require the airline to limit passenger loads to 85 people.

    Hill acknowledged SkyWest “jumped the gun” and already booked nearly 200 flights for later this fall. He said the airline “assumed permission” would be given since “communities, generally speaking, always support increased services,” but he also acknowledged the company should have waited.

    In any event, Hill said no matter what was decided, “you can’t please everybody,” and he added SkyWest’s designation as the region’s provider of Essential Air Services would be enhanced and could even lead to a second airline coming in at some point.

    Chair Evan Clapper said his concerns were about the slow season and how difficult it might be for people – especially those here on business – getting in and out of town. Clapper said the county is trying to diversify its tourism-dependent economy.

    Morse for his part said his motivation was ensuring the county looks at the issue in the short-, mid- and long-term, with the goal of bringing stability to the airport and the community.

    Members Curtis Wells and Greg Halliday voted yes, as they did April 16. Morse and Mary McGann also voted yes. McGann recused herself from the April 16 vote due to a perceived conflict of interest, but Grand County Attorney Christina Sloan considered McGann’s concerns and assured her she could vote. Member Rory Paxman recused himself, citing the fact that a relative works for the airline. Evans voted no, as he did April 16. Member Jaylyn Hawks was not present.

    The letter will go to the U.S. Department of Transportation, which oversees SkyWest’s operation as an Essential Air Services provider at the Moab airport.

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