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State & Local Officials Meet With Delta

Posted on 9/2/2011

By: Kari Lucin, The Jamestown Sun

Gov. Jack Dalrymple, Sen. John Hoeven and Rep. Rick Berg, all R-N.D., and other officials offered heartfelt pleas and data at a public forum with Delta Air Lines representatives at Jamestown Civic Center Thursday.

"Please do not abandon us, Delta," Hoeven said.

The meeting focused on ensuring regular and reliable air service to Jamestown Regional Airport and the Devils Lake Regional Airport, both of which receive federal Essential Air Service funding.

Bidding for the EAS contract and its associated funding will begin this month, but the previous contractor, Delta, has declined to bid due to retirement of the planes that once flew the Jamestown and Devils Lake routes.

"We will not be the bidders," said Jeff Davidman, director of government affairs for Delta, following the meeting.

However, Delta is contractually obligated to stay on at the two airports until a new carrier can be found, and Davidman and other Delta representatives stressed they will work with JRA, DLRA and state and local officials to ensure air service is maintained at its existing level.

Regional carriers affiliated with Delta may bid on the EAS contracts and the airports are courting several of them.

At the meeting, the officials began forming a work group of state and local stakeholders from Jamestown and Devils Lake, as well as Delta representatives, in order to address the problem.

During the forum, Jamestown Mayor Katie Andersen emphasized the city's growth and the importance of commercial air service to the region and its private industries.

Richard Johnson, Devils Lake mayor, thanked Delta for visiting Jamestown to "listen to our pleas" to continue serving the two communities.

"The air service is a crucial lifeline to our state economy," Dalrymple said.

The governor recalled his work with Dakota Growers Pasta Co., and how buyers of pasta often visited the plant before they signed contracts - flying to Jamestown and then driving to Carrington.

"Consider that there are special circumstances out there and we do need to make adjustments," Dalrymple said.

He suggested Delta could perhaps reconsider its retirement of the Saab planes that flew to Jamestown and Devils Lake.

"I just really want to work for a solution," Berg said, noting that as a pilot, he enjoyed flying into JRA.

Jim Boyd, chairman of the Jamestown Regional Airport Authority, and airport manager Matthew Leitner offered statistics on commercial JRA boardings that showed an increase from 3,339 in 2009 to 4,284 in 2010 and to 5,106 in 2011.

Many others lent their voices to the choir that seemed to either request Delta to stay or the state to find a way to get air service of equal quality, including Marty Richman, former CEO of Jamestown Regional Medical Center, Don Frye, Carrington mayor, and Gary Van Zinderen, dean of students at Jamestown College.

"I really ask you to consider continuing the service here, because it really does make a difference to our company and our community," said Jack Clay, vice president of Goodrich in Jamestown and a member of the JRA board.

Delta is facing 30 to 40 percent increases in fuel costs and has opted to retire part of its fleet, Davidman explained. His company had researched whether some other airline would take the Saabs, but no agreement could be made.

There are other options to help keep service with the new airline - whichever it will be - convenient, however. Delta may be able to make an agreement with the other company so customers can still purchase a single ticket for an entire flight.

"I've heard a lot of comments about service going away ... that's not going to happen," Davidman said.

The federal Department of Transportation will open up EAS bidding this month. Companies will have 30 days to bid, after which 30 days are allotted for community input. Within the following 30 days, the U.S. Department of Transportation will select a bid.

Sun reporter Kari Lucin can be reached at 701-952-8453 or by email at klucin@ jamestownsun.com