Big Sky Airlines Wins New York EAS Contract

Dec. 23--Big Sky Airlines will provide federally subsidized air service for three north country communities to Boston.

The U.S. Department of Transportation awarded the Billings, Mont., air carrier a two-year Essential Air Service contract Friday. Big Sky will offer 18 weekly flights from Watertown, Ogdensburg and Massena to Boston's Logan International Airport. Flights will start shortly after March 1, using 19-seat airplanes.

"We were very happy with that announcement," Big Sky President Fred L. deLeeuw said Friday. "We were thankful for all the communities' support in allowing us to serve that route."

The current EAS agreement with carrier Air Midwest to provide flights from Watertown, Ogdensburg and Massena to Pittsburgh, Pa., expires Feb. 28. Air Midwest's proposal would have maintained its current schedule to Pittsburgh.

"We are pleased to see the Big Sky proposal was successful and it will be a good destination change for the Essential Air Service community," said Wade A. Davis, Ogdensburg Bridge and Port Authority executive director. "This will help bring in more passengers to all three airports."

Big Sky will receive a $2,097,906 annual subsidy, about $600,000 less than a proposal by Air Midwest for $2,699,359.

"It is great news for the north country," Massena Town Supervisor W. Gary Edwards said. "I'm really excited and hope the community accepts it."

Big Sky has proposed an introductory fare of $99 from the north country to Boston, with fares rising to $139 after an initial period.

The carrier will look to offer competitive fares for destinations outside of Boston, driving local business away from Syracuse and toward the north country. The airline has partnerships with Alaska Airlines, Northwest Airlines and US Airways, and a new relationship with Delta Air Lines.

Jefferson County Legislator Philip N. Reed, R-Fishers Landing, said the carrier offered the best opportunity to increase ridership by capturing more of the 13,000 nondeployment-related departures by Fort Drum personnel annually.

"It increases our options for destinations and opens up more opportunities here in the community," said Mr. Reed, chairman of the General Services Committee, which retains oversight of Watertown International Airport.

The OBPA, town of Massena and Jefferson County -- each of which owns its respective airport -- had backed Big Sky for the EAS agreement. Several government entities, along with the northern New York congressional delegation, supported the carrier's proposal.

Mr. deLeeuw said the carrier will offer employment to current customer service representatives at the three airports working for Air Midwest.

"We will welcome them all to the Big Sky Airlines' family," Mr. deLeeuw said.

Big Sky also wants to locate a maintenance facility at one of the airports, company officials said. The carrier is looking for a hangar large enough to fit a 19-seat Beechcraft 1900D by late April.

The facility would become the carrier's base for maintenance in the Northeast, servicing a fleet of eight airplanes. The planes would be rotated on the route from Boston to be serviced.

The maintenance facility would employ about 20 people, mostly airplane mechanics and service technicians.

The Watertown, Massena and Ogdensburg airports have sufficient hangar space for Big Sky's maintenance operation, but none of the hangars are heated, airport officials said. All three airports would consider options from installing heaters in hangars to constructing buildings to secure the maintenance facility.

Big Sky currently serves 20 cities in Montana, Idaho, Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Wyoming and Illinois.

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