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SkyWest to stay for at least two more years

Federal subsidy deal reached for SkyWest’s winter Salt Lake Service

SkyWest Airlines plans to opt for a federal subsidy to continue making daily flights between Yellowstone Regional Airport in Cody and Salt Lake City this winter and next.

SkyWest, flying for Delta Airlines, made a proposal to the Essential Air Service program, administered by the U.S. Department of Transportation, to offer one daily flight during the winter months for $352,000 per year.

That breaks down to the federal government paying $31 per passenger for each SkyWest flight departing Cody this winter, said James Klessens of Cody Yellowstone Air Improvement Resources and CEO/president of Forward Cody.

The federal government will pay the subsidy, and there will be no charge to local or state governments, said CYAIR Chairman Sen. Hank Coe, R-Cody.

The 10:55 a.m. winter flights would run from Oct. 4, 2011 to May 31, 2012 and Oct. 4, 2012 to May 31, 2013. As in the past, SkyWest would continue making morning and afternoon flights in the summer without a subsidy, Klessens said.

Following the announcement this spring that SkyWest was discontinuing all its flights between Yellowstone Regional Airport and Salt Lake City after Sept. 6, the U.S. Department of Transportation placed a “hold-in” order, mandating the airline continue making flights from Cody until another airline offered a proposal to deliver passengers to a major airport under the federal Essential Air Service program.

The Essential Air Service program guarantees small airports, such as Yellowstone Regional, two commercial flights per day to a major hub like Salt Lake City.

United Airlines delivers passengers to Denver, so another airline could have proposed making a flight under the EAS to any major airport, including Denver.

However, SkyWest was the only airline that tendered a proposal.

“SkyWest gambled, and they won,” Coe said.

Coe described SkyWest’s strategy as a victory for the airline and Big Horn Basin residents alike because folks will continue to catch flights to Salt Lake City.

“All in all, I think it’s a win-win,” Coe said. “SkyWest wants to get paid to fly.”

The deadline to inform DOT whether CYAIR and other local stakeholders agree to SkyWest’s offer is Sept. 28, Klessens said.

The Yellowstone Regional Airport Joint Powers Board agreed to sign the letter of support on Tuesday morning at an airport board special meeting. The Cody City Council signed Tuesday night. Klessens said he is confident the Park County Commission will endorse the letter, and other entities like the Park County Travel Council and Forward Cody are on board, too, he said.

Shortly after the deadline, the U.S. Department of Transportation will decide whether to accept the SkyWest proposal.

If the department approves the offer, there will be no lapse in SkyWest service, said Bob Hooper, CYAIR member and Yellowstone Regional Airport manager.

For the last few months, CYAIR has been striving to keep the Salt Lake City connection or find another airline to get locals to another major airport. Cody Mayor Nancy Tia Brown said they deserve a pat on the back for their efforts.

The community must strive to make landing at the Cody airport a worthwhile venture for airlines, Coe said.

“Airplanes just don’t show up,” he said.

CYAIR will do everything it can to make SkyWest’s flights successful for the airline, but he would like to see the airport weaned from EAS grants, Coe said.

Yellowstone Regional still loses about 40,000 passengers per year to the Billings airport, so CYAIR must continue to encourage Park County residents to fly from Cody, Klessens said.

For the next two winters, SkyWest will fly a Canadair Regional Jet 200 (CRJ200), a 50-passenger turbojet. However, Salt Lake City travelers will continue boarding a 30-passenger Brasilia twin-turboprop plane until Jan. 1.

“Due to availability constraints, CRJ200 service will begin Jan. 1, 2012,” said Michael Thompson, vice president of market development for SkyWest in a written EAS proposal to Dennis DeVany, DOT office of aviation analysis.

CYAIR, with the joint powers board as its sponsor, has applied for a $600,000 Small Community Air Service Development Program grant from DOT. They will learn whether the grant is approved this spring.

The grant, with a 20 percent local match, could be used to attract any airline to provide flights to any airport in the United States.

If the grant application is accepted, the board and CYAIR can decide then whether to use it, Hooper said.

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