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SkyWest Airlines to continue providing service to Jamestown, Devils Lake airports

by Chris Olson

Posted on 5/27/2016

A Saturday night arrival flight and Sunday morning departure flight will expand options for travelers using Jamestown Regional Airport as SkyWest Airlines has added one flight to its schedule with its new Essential Air Service contract.

The U.S. Department of Transportation announced earlier this week it had reselected SkyWest Airlines Inc. to provide EAS to Jamestown and Devils Lake through June 2018. The DOT will pay an annual subsidy of $3.9 million to SkyWest to provide 12 nonstop, or one-stop, round-trip flights between Devils Lake Regional Airport and Denver International Airport. The DOT will pay $2.7 million annually to SkyWest to provide the same number of flights to Jamestown Regional Airport.

By increasing the number of flights from 11 to 12, Jamestown and Devils Lake have gained a Saturday night arrival flight and a Sunday morning take-off flight, said Sam Seafeldt, Jamestown Regional Airport manager. He said this will open up more opportunities for people wanting to fly out of Jamestown.

"This (having a Saturday night arrival and Sunday morning departure flight) will help a lot," he said. "Now everyday of the week we have a departure flight."

Seafeldt said the current EAS contract requires 11 flights per week, which means there is no Saturday night arrival flight. This did have a negative effect on the airport because when people would search for a return flight on any travel website on a Saturday, the search result would be negative, he said.

Brandi Van Gilder, owner of Jamestown Travel Inc., said she is pleased the DOT renewed the contract with SkyWest Airlines and added a Saturday night arrival flight. By adding the Saturday arrival flight, Van Gilder said her business will be able to offer her customers tours and flights to Mexico, Belize and Hawaii that formerly were only available out of Fargo or Bismarck.

She said her business will be able to offer good connections to destinations in Mexico, like Cabo San Lucas and Cancun, and to Hawaii.

"People, when they travel, may only be able to travel Saturday to Saturday," she said. "By having this flight (Saturday night) and the Sunday morning flight out, it is really going to be convenient for people."

Van Gilder said people want to fly out of Jamestown because of the free parking. She said being able to park at the airport for free, especially in the winter, is a major benefit for Jamestown.

Van Gilder was one of 39 people or organizations who wrote letters of support for the SkyWest Airlines application for the EAS contract from July 1 to June 30, 2018, for Jamestown and Devils Lake.

Great Lakes Aviation also applied to the DOT to provide 12 nonstop flights from Devils Lake Regional Airport to Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport using a 19-seat propeller-driven airplane and to receive an annual subsidy from the DOT of $2.8 million.

Great Lakes Aviation would have provided 18 nonstop roundtrip flights between Jamestown Regional Airport and Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport using a 19-seat propeller-driven airplane and received an annual subsidy of $3.2 million from the DOT.

The DOT noted in written order that Great Lakes Aviation previously had the EAS contract for both airports when it ceased offering service on Feb. 1, 2014, due to a shortage of pilots. The DOT also noted that no messages of support for Great Lakes' bid were received from the communities, and Great Lakes has an exemption request pending before the Federal Aviation Administration to allow the air carrier's first officers to operate Beechcraft 1900D under Part 135 of FAA regulations. Currently Great Lakes Aviation is limited to flying nine-seat airplanes.

SkyWest Airlines will continue to use CJR 200 jet airplanes that seat 50 people.

Kyle Wenner, executive director of the North Dakota Aeronautics Commission, said in his comments to the DOT that he supported having SkyWest continue to provide passenger jet service to Jamestown and Devils Lake.

As a result of transitioning from Great Lakes Aviation to SkyWest, Jamestown Regional Airport experienced a 223 percent growth in passenger traffic and Devils Lake had a 91 percent growth in traffic, he said in his comments.

Mayor Katie Andersen said in her comments to the DOT that the community has "enjoyed and strongly supported" SkyWest's service.

Sens. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., and John Hoeven, R-N.D., supported the SkyWest proposal.

Heitkamp said the EAS program, which is federally funded, has benefitted rural economies.

"Strong Essential Air Service investments bring more tourism and steady business to both Devils Lake and Jamestown, so our local communities and economies can continue to thrive," she said in a prepared statement.

Hoeven said he also supported awarding the EAS contract to SkyWest.

"Reliable air service is vital to our communities' businesses and residents," Hoeven said. "These flights will help ensure the continued prosperity of Jamestown, Devils Lake and nearby communities by meeting increased demand and supporting a wide range of business and personal activity, including tourism."

colson@jamestownsun.com

(701) 952-8454