Great Lakes looking to move services from Albuquerque to Denver

Kevin Wilson

The Clovis Municipal Airport can continue to use Great Lakes Airlines as its Essential Air Services carrier, or it can fly to the Albuquerque Sunport. It just can’t do both.

That’s the message — albeit with an accommodating ultimatum — given by Great Lakes CEO Chuck Howell IV to the Clovis Civil Aviation Board.

The board requested Airport Director Gene Bieker study a pair of options offered by Great Lakes until the board meets again.

Great Lakes, which has served Clovis Municipal Airport since April 2006 with federally-subsidized EAS flights, is looking to move its Clovis and Silver City services from Albuquerque to Denver, with a Santa Fe loop.

Howell said the Albuquerque Sunport has excellent staff and has been a great partner, but it’s not a hub and shows no signs of becoming one.

“Albuquerque, for us on a long-term basis, just doesn’t work as a business plan for us,” Howell told the board members via conference call.

He proposed the following options for the Clovis airport, and has done the same for the Silver City airport:

Option 1: The airport can take the Denver option, and would be strongly advised to set up Transportation Security Administration. The Denver airport could not offer reverse screening (security screens when passengers deplane).

That option would likely start in September, when Great Lakes can shuffle its aircraft with the expiration of other contracts nationwide.

Option 2: The airport can continue service in Albuquerque. Great Lakes would then file a notice of termination of services, and work with the community to find a replacement carrier. Until a replacement carrier takes over, Great Lakes would continue Albuquerque service.

“We couldn’t stop serving you unless we go out of business, which we’re not,” Howell said. “We’ll continue to serve you.”

Clovis’ contract with Great Lakes runs through March 2013.

Last year, using 12 weekly Clovis-Albuquerque flights from Great Lakes, the Clovis Municipal Airport inplaned 2,230 passengers and deplaned 2,090 — with ranges of 180 to 220 per month.

During a 2011 Congressional fight over the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization, Howell said, EAS became a “whipping boy” in the media due to a focus on cutting government spending. He said Clovis could be a target for cuts to EAS service unless it adds about 100 passengers per month. He saw Denver — with nearly 10 times the connections of Albuquerque — as a good path to get there.

City Manager Joe Thomas asked if a Dallas connection would be a remote possibility. Howell responded that he would stress the “remote” part because Great Lakes does not have current Dallas presence.

Board member Karl Spence asked how many Cannon Air Force Base personnel fly out of Denver and Dallas, and thought that should be a part of the conversation. Regarding deployments, Thomas said it was his understanding that deployments of 40 or more usually meant an airline would travel directly to Cannon, and smaller deployments usually fly out of Lubbock.

Spence said he was more curious about where they fly personally and for work, because he remembers plenty of air travel time when he worked in the government.

Board members said they should look into TSA service no matter what, because it may give them an ability to transition to a Dallas connection later, with or without Great Lakes.

“If we see a Dallas loop,” Curtis said, “people will not drive to Lubbock (to fly).”