Clovis air service comment period extended

CNJ staff photo: Tony Bullocks Great Lakes Airlines has served Clovis since April of 2006, and currently offers 12 Albuquerque round-trips — two every weekday, and one each on Saturday and Sunday.

Kevin Wilson

On another look, the future of Clovis’ airport service may still be up in the air.

Dennis J. DeVany, chief of the Essential Air Service Division for the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Office of Aviation Analysis, sent an e-mail to city officials to inform them there will be a selection process after all for the airport.

The city can make a recommendation to either keep incumbent carrier Great Lakes Airlines or pick Portland, Ore.-based SeaPort Airlines.

City Manager Joe Thomas said Tuesday the U.S. Department of Transportation would make the final decision.

The department originally selected New Mexico Airlines, a division of Hawaii-based Pacific Wings, to serve Clovis.

DeVany told city officials in January that conditions required selecting New Mexico Airlines over three other proposals, because the trio depended on an Essential Air Service federal subsidy and NMA’s application did not.

That decision, DeVany said, was based on an incorrect application of statutes.

“We based that opinion at Clovis on the fact that under…our governing statues, the community is not guaranteed service with 15-seat or larger aircraft if subsidy-free service is provided with smaller aircraft,” DeVaney wrote. “However, after further review, we have now determined that (EAS’s) twin-engine, two pilot requirement … is not trumped by a subsidy-free proposal.”

“As a result, we will not terminate the carrier-selection proceeding at Clovis as we said originally but, instead, will continue to process a normal carrier-selection case.”

The comment period has been extended until Feb. 22. New Mexico Airlines did not submit a proposal for the extended period, Thomas said.

Attempts to contact NMA officials Tuesday were unsuccessful.

“The final decision is made by the U.S. Department of Transportation. They would request the city make a recommendation to them. I would assume sometime before then, the city commission will decide on that.”

Great Lakes Airlines has served Clovis since April of 2006, and currently offers 12 Albuquerque round-trips — two every weekday, and one each on Saturday and Sunday. Its most recent two-year contract, which expires April 30, offers 12 flights and takes in an annual EAS subsidy of $1,517,277.

The city can pick from the following two bids.

• Great Lakes submitted a proposal with stand-alone options for EAS, using 19-seat Beech 1900 aircraft. Great Lakes proposes to provide 12 nonstop round trips per week between the community and Albuquerque (or Denver, with one-stop over Santa Fe or Pueblo) at an annual subsidy of $1,592,157.

Thomas said if Great Lakes is selected, it would negotiate then between Albuquerque or Denver. Thomas said the city might be interested in service to both, but noted that might not be realistic.

• SeaPort Airlines, based in Portland, Ore., has proposed two service options, both using nine-seat Pilatus PC-12 aircraft. The first would provide 18 weekly round trips between Clovis and Albuquerque a week for an annual subsidy of $1,449,352. The second would provide 14 weekly round trips for a $1,127,805 annual subsidy. It has made the same offer to Silver City, another EAS community in New Mexico.

A fourth bid was originally submitted by Gulfstream, but it was withdrawn Feb. 1 after Gulfstream was selected to serve seven EAS communities in Montana.

“While we welcome the challenge of establishing such operations,” Gulfstream Vice President of Corporate Development Mickey Bowman wrote to the DoT, “and have no doubt in our ability to deliver a quality product, we feel it is only prudent to limit ourselves in terms of logistical reach.”

New Mexico Airlines has served Carlsbad, Alamogordo and Hobbs for approximately four years. and utilizes 9-seat Cessna 208B aircraft, which fall below standards required for EAS flights. However, the company said in releases that it eliminated subsidies at other airlines by using more efficient aircraft and increasing ticket prices for customers.