Denver and Phoenix are apparently not as attractive destinations as Albuquerque to some New Mexico communities.
In a new essential air service (EAS) contract, the U.S. Department of Transportation recently awarded another two-year franchise to Great Lakes Airlines to fly from Clovis and Silver City, NM. While the communities want Great Lakes to continue to link their small towns to Albuquerque, DOT is instead routing all flights to Denver and Phoenix.
Both the state and Silver City have since asked that the new contract be reworked with some flights scheduled for Albuquerque.
Great Lakes will continue to fly the current schedule until a new agreement can be reached with DOT and the local communities, according to Monica Taylor, the airline’s marketing manager. In the new contract, effective May 1, DOT says it would permit a one-for-one swap of flights of Albuquerque for Denver on the Clovis route.
A DOT spokesperson says the agency is now reviewing the requests to change the contract.
In making the contract award earlier this month, DOT selected the cheapest options that Great Lakes presented in its proposal package. Great Lakes will fly 18 round-trips per week from Clovis to Denver for an annual subsidy of $999,932. It will fly from Silver City 12 round-trips a week to Phoenix for an annual subsidy of $699,968.
All service will be provided in a 19-passenger Beechcraft 1900D.
In its proposal, Great Lakes sought a subsidy of $2.4 million to provide the same service it is now flying. The airline flies 12 weekly nonstop, round-trips from each city to Albuquerque. As part of this option, it would also fly a daily round trip from Clovis to Denver.
The current subsidy, $1.7 million, only covers the 24 round-trip flights to Albuquerque.
Taylor says that a daily Clovis-to-Denver trip is currently flown without an EAS subsidy. The flight is routed through Amarillo, TX, and then onto Denver. The Amarillo to Denver leg is also not subsidized. Taylor notes that while the route is not profitable, it positions aircraft so that the 1900s can be serviced at its Denver maintenance station.
Great Lakes was the only carrier competing for the EAS contract.
When it submitted its proposal, Taylor says that Great Lakes had to anticipate that other carriers would compete and perhaps offer route options to Denver and Phoenix. In the EAS bidding process, a carrier cannot change its proposal once it’s been submitted.
Great Lakes, based in Cheyenne, WY, is generally competing for western EAS contracts with Phoenix-based Mesa Airlines and Big Sky Airlines, based in Billings, MT. Neither carrier competed for this EAS contract.
Great Lakes has code-sharing agreements with both United Airlines and Frontier Airlines, both with hubs in Denver. Travelers can purchase a single ticket on either major carrier for their ultimate destination. Taylor explains.
In reviewing the proposals, Silver City apparently endorsed the wrong option, according to both Taylor and Robert Scavron, an attorney representing Silver City. Scavron says that Silver City wanted to maintain the Albuquerque service and build upon it with additional flights to Phoenix. “There was no intention to abandon Albuquerque as our air service hub,” Scavron says.
“The elimination of Albuquerque in the route structure is not acceptable,” adds Thomas Baca, New Mexico’s aviation director. “Early reaction from travelers in both communities regarding these changes is not favorable. I fully realize that cost does enter the selection equation,” Baca says. “However, we believe the actual desires of the potential passengers who will be utilizing this service should be weighted very heavily in arriving at your final decision.”
The U.S. Department of Transportation chose to provide federally subsidized flights between Clovis and Denver under its essential air service program. Clovis officials wanted favored to Albuquerque.
Pacific Wings proposed offering nine-seat flights to and from Clovis. Great Lakes has offered 19-seat flights to and from Clovis for two years.
The $2 million contract awarded last month to Great Lakes Aviation to provide service for Clovis and Silver City under the EAS program was rescinded.