The tarmac where Great Lakes Aviation parked their plane at the Canyonlands Field Airport is now empty. Great Lakes pulled operations on Wednesday, Jan. 15. No commercially scheduled flights will be available at the airport until SkyWest begins operations March 2. [Photo by Kristin Millis / Moab Sun News]

Great Lakes Airlines pulled their air service from Canyonlands Field Airport before SkyWest begins their contract March 2.

“There will be no commercial scheduled service, until SkyWest starts operations on March 2, 2014,” said Kelly Braun, the manager for Canyonlands Field Airport.

Braun has contacted SkyWest to see if they would be able to begin flights sooner, but he had not yet received a response.

“The up-side is that SkyWest is putting their infrastructure in at Canyonlands Field Airport and they have hired employees,” Braun said. “The start date of March 2 is still a go.”

According to an email from Chuck Howell, the chief executive officer of Great Lakes Airlines, the airline didn’t have enough pilots and crew members to maintain regular flights to and from Canyonlands Field Airport.

“As you have noticed over the past few months, we have not been able to perform the majority of flights with this severe shortage,” Howell said.

Howell said that Great Lakes Airlines had 304 pilots in January 2013, yet that numbered dropped to 100 pilots a year later.

“We have only been able to hire four qualified pilots since August,” Howell said.

Two rules went into effect during the last year that affected Great Lakes Airlines’ ability to have qualified pilots.

The First Officer 1500 Air Transport Pilot rule took effect in August 2013. This required first officers to be at least 21 years old and have 1500 hours of flight time.

The Flight and Duty Time Rule took effect Jan. 4, 2014. This rule included that pilots must have the opportunity for eight hours of uninterrupted sleep and 10 hours of overall rest time between one day and the next.

Howell said that he brought up these concerns during the Canyonlands Field Airport board meeting when Great Lakes Airlines applied for the renewal of the contact.

“This is a national crisis and we are being affected foremost,” Howell said.

SkyWest was chosen as the Essential Air Service (EAS) provider for Canyonlands Field Airport in December.

Three airlines, including Great Lakes Airlines, submitted proposals to the Office of Aviation Analysis of the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) in August. The final decision to award SkyWest with the two-year contract was made by USDOT and the Federal Aviation Administration on Friday, Dec. 6.

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.

One of the major changes that will occur when SkyWest begins the contract is that flights from Canyonlands Field Airport will go to Salt Lake City to connect with Delta Airlines. Great Lakes Airlines flew to Denver.

SkyWest will offer a minimum of 12 round-trip flights per week between Canyonlands Field Airport and Salt Lake City. Two flights per day will be offered Thursday through Monday. One round-trip per flight will be offered on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

Braun said that while the lack of commercial flights will affect the airport, knowing that service will resume before the tourists season begins is a benefit.

“The timing could be worse, we are in slow part of the season and not too many passengers will be affected,” Braun said.

Great Lakes pulls service; SkyWest not scheduled to begin until March 2

“As you have noticed over the past few months, we have not been able to perform the majority of flights with this severe shortage.”