By David Irvin: CNJ staff writer
The air service at the Clovis Municipal Airport will be changing in the next couple of months. The city’s request made to the Department of Transportation for service change has been upheld at the federal level. However, the number of flights in and out of the airport will decrease under the new deal.
Late last week, the DOT’s Essential Air Service Program approved the City Commission’s decision to grant the contract for air service to Great Lakes Airlines, a contract awarded to Mesa Airlines the last 20 years. But at the same time they reduced the number of round-trip flights per day to two from three.
Civil Aviation Board Chairperson Donnie Lewellen said the decision by the DOT to approve the Great Lakes contract wasn’t surprising, but the loss of one of the flights was disappointing.
“(The DOT) looked at our boarding, the number of people who fly the airlines, and they were just so low that they didn’t feel it was justifiable,” he said.
He said if Great Lakes is able to get the number of passengers up, there will be a chance the DOT will allow the third flight again. However, he was not sure if that could happen before the two-year contract is up.
The DOT will provide Great Lakes with an annual subsidy of $1,718,113 through the Essential Air Service Program, according to a press release from U.S. Rep. Tom Udall, D-N.M.
“We were extremely elated when we got the news that we were selected as the carrier,” said Chuck Howell, chief executive officer of Great Lakes Airlines.
He said Great Lakes has entered discussions with Mesa to determine the best time to make the transition, a date they should know within about 10 days. Great Lakes also picked up the air service in Silver City.
Mickey Bowman of Mesa Air Group said the decision by the DOT was clearly disappointing to their company, but there is a good chance Mesa will bid on the contract when it comes back up in two years.
In the mean time, the companies will work together to facilitate the service change. Bowman said the change should be complete within the next 60 to 90 days.
“Of course, we would much rather had it go our way,” he said, “but once the DOT has made its decision, there is very little to be done.”
Bowman said there were indications the DOT might reduce the number of flights. It probably would have happened even if Mesa had retained the contract, he said.
The DOT based its decision on four factors: Scheduled service reliability; contractual and marketing arrangements with a larger carrier to ensure service beyond the hub; interline arrangements that the applicant has made with a larger carrier at the hub; and community views, giving substantial weight to the views of the elected officials representing the users, according to the press release from Udall’s office.
“I have long believed that adequate, reliable air service in New Mexico’s rural communities is not simply a convenience — it is an imperative,” Udall said in the press release.
The Civl Aviation Board voted Nov. 1 to endorse Great Lakes Airlines as the new carrier in Clovis, and city officials wrote a letter of sponsorship to the Essential Air Service Division of the DOT petitioning for a service change.
Like Mesa, Great Lakes will service flights to and from Albuquerque.