Grand County Airport Board member Bob Greenberg’s fears about passenger airline service to Canyonlands Field Airport have come to pass.
Essential Air Service carrier SkyWest Airlines informed airport officials on Nov. 17 that it plans to terminate flights between Canyonlands Field and Salt Lake City International Airport, effective April 30, 2015.
The decision, which was announced after regular business hours on Monday, comes as the St. George company moves forward with plans to shift its entire fleet of aircraft from 30-seat turbo-prop service to larger 50-seat regional jets.
Canyonlands Field’s runway is currently too small to accommodate the bigger planes, although airport and county officials are fast-tracking plans to improve and expand the runway in 2016.
“This community has done everything it possibly can to work with them on this,” Greenberg said Nov. 18.
SkyWest Corporate Communications Director Marissa Snow said the changes are due in part to increased costs and associated challenges that come with new federal regulations governing pilots’ flight and duty time limitations.
“As a result, we anticipate that we will no longer have aircraft capable of serving Canyonlands Field after April 30, 2015,” she said.
Snow told the Moab Sun News last month that the company had no immediate plans to adjust its service to Moab’s airport. However, Greenberg voiced concerns at the time that the changes could lead to a gap in passenger airline service, or a potential reversion to service through former carrier Great Lakes Aviation.
Despite those concerns, he said that SkyWest representatives assured local officials that Canyonlands Field would be the last airport that would be affected by the company’s plans.
“They’re pulling out far earlier than they told us they would, it seems like,” Greenberg said, adding that he’s “dismayed and disappointed” by the company’s accelerated plans to halt local passenger flights.
“It’s a great service. People are using it; it’s helping us grow our economy,” he said. “It’s a real blow.”
SkyWest is planning to stop its service just over one year into the company’s two-year contract with the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Essential Air Service program. However, Greenberg noted that the company cannot simply stop its flights to and from Canyonlands Field until a new Essential Air Service carrier is in place.
“They have a contract with the U.S. government, and they can’t just pull out,” he said.
Caitlin Harvey, a public affairs specialist with the U.S. Department of Transportation, said that SkyWest has not yet submitted a formal 90-day notice to suspend service to Canyonlands Field. Once it does, the agency can issue orders that require the airline carrier to continue service for as long as it takes to find a new carrier.
Grand County Council chairman Lynn Jackson said he had an inkling that SkyWest would eventually make the transition to the larger jets, but he was surprised by the timing of the announcement.
“I’m like everybody else: I’m a little bit shocked,” he said.
Whatever happens now, Jackson vowed that airport and county officials will move ahead with their accelerated time frame to improve the runway at Canyonlands Field.
“We recognize that we definitely have to upgrade our airport so that we can bring in these bigger regional jets,” he said.
Airline says it wants to pull out by April 30