SkyWest Airlines is the new provider for Essential Air Service (EAS) at Canyonlands Field Airport.
SkyWest will offer a minimum of 12 flights per week from Canyonlands Field Airport to Salt Lake City.
The transition from Great Lakes Airlines, which now has the EAS contract, to SkyWest Airlines is expected to take approximately 60 to 90 days.
Proposals from SkyWest, Great Lakes and Boutique Airlines were submitted to the Office of Aviation Analysis of the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) in August. The final decision was made by USDOT and the Federal Aviation Administration on Friday, Dec. 6.
“SkyWest Airlines is pleased to be selected by the Department of Transportation to provide air service in Moab,” said Jessica Bowers, spokeswoman for SkyWest. “We will be working closely with community leaders in the coming weeks as we finalize our initial schedule and look forward to serving passengers in Eastern Utah.”
There was strong community support for choosing SkyWest.
Ruth Dillon, the administrator for Grand County, said she was aware of fourteen letters sent by citizens and businesses to the Office of Aviation recommending SkyWest, as well as letters from the Moab Area Travel Council Advisory Board, the City of Moab, the Moab Chamber of Commerce, the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, Utah State University, Moab Film Commission, Moab Regional Hospital and Canyonlands Care Center.
USDOT notified Sen. Orrin Hatch Friday, Dec. 6, that SkyWest will have a two-year contact.
“We are thrilled that community impact was heeded in this selection,” said Dianne Browning from Sen. Hatch’s office. “Sen. Hatch was pleased to be of service during this selection process.”
Moab City Mayor Dave Sakrison reacted enthusiastically.
“This is absolutely fantastic,” he said. “This is what we were hoping for. This is great news.”
Sakrison sat on the Canyonlands Field board for years. During 2013 city councilman Jeff Davis represented the city on the board. Sakrison plans to return to the board in 2014.
“This will have a huge impact on this community,” Sakrison said. “From an economic development standpoint, a visitor standpoint, an airport standpoint.”
One of the major changes that will occur due to the change in contracts is that SkyWest will fly to Salt Lake City to connect with Delta Airlines. Great Lakes Airlines flew to Denver.
In SkyWest’s proposal from August, they stated “one of the most beneficial aspects is the connectivity it provides Moab.”
It stated that through their relationship with Delta Airlines, passengers would have access to thousands of daily flights to 330 destinations in 65 countries.
“Salt Lake is a major hub. You can get almost anywhere you want to go,” Sakrison said.
Sakrison also sees a personal benefit.
“I attend a lot of meetings in Salt Lake,” Sakrison said.
Marian DeLay, director of the Grand County Travel Council echoed the sentiment.
“I can be up in Salt Lake and back without having to worry about a snowstorm or be gone for 12 hours when I only need to be gone for four,” DeLay said. “Most of my business is much more accessible through the Salt Lake gates than through the Denver gates.”
Another change that SkyWest will bring is the use of 30-seat planes, rather than the 18-seat planes that Great Lakes Airlines was using.
DeLay said that this will benefit outfitters
“It will be good for business,” DeLay said. “We have a number of tour operators that do smaller group sizes. The 18-passenger was still too small. The 30 passenger should just be able to accommodate those groups.”
Another benefit she sees is SkyWest’s name recognition.
“I think the name recognition versus Great Lakes is higher. I think our enplanements will increase,” DeLay said. “If we can get those enplanements up there, we can get the funding we need to make this work long-term.”
Kelly Braun, the director Canyonlands Field, said that the airport had approximately 4000 enplanements in 2008. By 2012 that number had risen to 9,034. Braun estimated that half of the enplanements are for scheduled flights, the other half for tours and charters.
If Canyonlands Field Airport has 10,000 or more enplanements a year, it becomes eligible for a $1 million subsidy through the Federal Aviation Administration.
Canyonlands Field has been an Essential Air Service (EAS) airport since the federal government began the program in 1978.
EAS was started by the federal government as a stop-gap to ensure that small communities did not lose air service after the deregulation of airlines. Though the program has changed over the years it still provides funding of approximately $210 million a year in subsidies to about 200 communities, including Moab, said Braun.
Those subsidies go to the airlines that provide service and cannot exceed over $500 per seat. EAS airports must have an average of 10 enplanements per day, not including private flights.
Canyonlands Field has had a number of airlines provide service since 1978, Braun said in a presentation to the county council in August, “but most have left much to be desired.”
In the statement from USDOT, one of the concerns with Great Lakes services were considered unreliable.
“We are concerned about the reliability issues that Moab has experienced with Great Lakes and its negative impacts on the community. As described earlier, the Department has received several letters from local businesses and community members specifically detailing the service issues with Great Lakes and how they have impacted them,” the USDOT statement said. “Additionally, SkyWest has a greater ability to handle the steadily increasing traffic at Moab with its 30-seat aircraft.”
The statement also acknowledged that Moab City’s and Grand County’s elected officials all unanimously supported SkyWest’s proposal and the desire to connect with Salt Lake City, rather than Denver, as provided by Great Lakes Airlines.
“Our regulations also state that when selecting which hub service should be provided to, we consider the commercial, geographic, and political ties of the hub to the community,” said the USDOT statement. “Whereas Salt Lake City is both the state capital of Utah and, as outlined in several of the community comments we received, has significantly more commercial ties to Moab than does Denver, it unquestionably has an advantage under this guideline.”
Airline proposing 12 flights per week from Canyonlands Field to Salt Lake City
“This will have a huge impact on this community. From an economic development standpoint, a visitor standpoint, an airport standpoint.”