Local leaders seek GLA as air service provider

Local leaders seek GLA as air service provider
by LAUREL BEAGER, Editor
11.23.11 – 09:44 am

Local leaders have asked the United States Department of Transportation to select Great Lakes Aviation as the community’s commercial air service provider under the essential air service program.

Monday’s action was prompted by Delta Airlines’ announcement in July that it would not continue servicing the Falls. Under the essential air service program, Delta must continue to provide service until another provider is in place.

The essential air service program subsidizes airlines for servicing rural communities in markets that would otherwise not be profitable. The International Falls airport began receiving subsidies from the program about two years ago to keep air service in the community. The EAS program is funded by three sources: fuel surcharges airlines pay when fueling, fees collected through air ticket purchases, and $50 million in overflight fees paid by foreign airlines flying over the United States and using the air traffic control system.

The International Falls City Council, acting on behalf of the local airport commission, endorsed Great Lakes Aviation during a special meeting Monday morning scheduled to meet a DOT deadline for input into the decision on an air service provider.

GLA has proposed three flights in to and out of the Falls daily.

A second proposal, from Sovereign Air Inc., is not viable, according to local officials, because it does not now have pilots or airplanes.

The GLA endorsement comes with several caveats that seek to meet the community’s needs for air service as identified in a recent survey taken of the airport’s users. Falls Mayor Shawn Mason identified those needs as sufficient summer capacity, reliability of service and appropriate scheduling in a letter to Dennis J. DeVany, chief of the Essential Air Service Division of the Office of Aviation Analysis, with the U.S. DOT.

Her letter provided details of the three air service needs, which she calls “critical to the social and economic well-being of our community.”

Mason’s letter seeks assurances that the Falls will have a flight schedule deemed reasonable within the intent of the EAS legislation. In addition, the letter seeks recognition by the DOT that the maximum 67-seat allowance is appropriate for the Falls airport between Memorial Day and Labor Day and consideration of allowances for any additional subsidy beyond the 57 seats per day GLA now proposes.

“There is no question that our enplanements (the number of passengers boarding a plane) will decline unless the above conditions are implemented, simply because of a significant reduction of available seats in the summer,” wrote Mason. “It is our understanding that an increase in enplanements is one of the goals of the EAS legislation …”

Airport Commission Chairman Bob Anderson said the DOT is expected to make a decision on which airline will provide service by the end of November.

Anderson said the DOT’s decision would be followed by discussions with GLA about when it would be ready to provide service in the Falls. GLA officials have said that they would provide service in the Falls after the first of the year and possibly closer to spring, he said. However, those comments were made prior to Delta sending a letter to the DOT asking that the new provider begin service in the Falls as soon as possible.

“I don’t know when U.S. DOT awards this whether they will ask (GLA) to move within a certain period,” Anderson said.

How the change in provider will impact ticket prices is unknown now, he said.

“There is nothing with the U.S. DOT or EAS that says they have to charge a certain price,” he said. “The bid (from GLA) is slightly lower to serve International Falls than what Delta is receiving presently.”

People may continue to purchase tickets to fly in and out of the Falls International Airport while decisions are being made and during the transition, Anderson said.

The GLA proposal includes an agreement with Delta that allows credit for miles from International Falls to the Twin Cities, and passengers who travel further with Delta will be credited for the segment from International Falls to the Twin Cities, said Anderson. In addition, he said the proposal also covers baggage from GLA to Delta planes.

Meanwhile, officials touched briefly on rumors that GLA is experiencing labor troubles with its pilots and that it is just recovering from financial issues.

Anderson said labor unrest “does not add stability to the situation, but we still have Delta.”

In addition, a story published Thursday in The Sacramento Bee said that Great Lakes Aviation Ltd. had just the day before “entered into a new financing agreement to satisfy debt obligations which matured today.”

Anderson said Tuesday that local leaders were aware that GLA had a balloon payment due last week and it was “obviously resolved in some way and were able to secure the necessary financing to continue forth their operation.”

© ifallsdailyjournal.com 2011

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