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TBT (Throwback Thursday) in Aviation History: Big Sky Airlines
From their start in 1978, Big Sky Airlines played an important role in connecting small cities across Montana, as well as cities in Washington, Idaho, Colorado, and Wyoming during a significant portion of its existence. The regional airline was based in Billings, Montana, and was very important to the state as often times it was the only airline with routes connected to smaller cities. Just like many airlines during its time, Big Sky had its fair share of success. In 1998 the airline succeeded in its takeover of Exec Express II following its bankruptcy, adding additional routes and steady growth. Much of this financial success can also be attributed to flying routes that were subsidized by the government.
Though many routes outside of Montana were eventually discontinued, some lasted until the early 2000’s, which was over two thirds of the Big Sky’s life. Some of these cities included Spokane, Moses Lake, Boise, and Denver. Big Sky found that it made more profit acting as a regional carrier within their home state, and discontinued several of their major city routes accordingly. As for the aircraft type, the airline maintained a fleet of ten Beechcraft 1900D’s. These airplanes could carry about 19 passengers, all in an economy class formation. The airline had three codeshare agreements, one with Alaska and its partner Horizon Air, one with Northwest, and one with USAirways. Many of their ten airplanes were operated under these names as a regional partner.
In late 2006, Big Sky announced that they would become a Delta Connection carrier, effectively ending any routes that were served only in the Big Sky name. The change would mean that they would fly short-haul flights on behalf of Delta, and share some of the revenue by doing so. This change would end up contributing significantly to the airline’s demise. As a part of the change, Big Sky would now operate eight of their ten turboprops out of Boston Logan International Airport. These operations came to an end very quickly, however, as Big Sky lost their contract with Delta only a year later.
On December 20, 2007, the airline announced that all operations would be ceased within 60 to 90 days. The cause of their sudden downfall was a combination of problems, including the loss of their Delta contract, terrible weather resulting in a loss of profit, and extremely high fuel prices.
On March 8, 2008, Big Sky Airlines operated their final flight. To mark the occasion, three Big Sky flights performed a joint flyover of the Billings Airport before landing. Despite their downfall in the end, Big Sky was an extremely successful regional carrier, considering their 30 year existence was filled with triumphs and joy, contrary to the hardship experienced by other airlines during that time that had failed. The airline also left their mark on the many small Montana cities they flew to, since they were the sometimes the only option for passengers wishing to connect to other cities. Their legacy is remembered by former passengers and crew members who were fortunate enough to have shared in the Big Sky experience.
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