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A Cape Air Tecnam P2012 Traveller lifts off. (Photo: Cape Air)

Manistee Airport Backs EAS Provider Amid Controversy

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, routes provided by Essential Air Service (EAS) — a Department of Transporation (DOT) program that subsidizes flights to airports that might not otherwise receive service — have become, as the name suggests, essential. That’s true not only for the communities and travelers that rely on the air service that EAS routes provide but also for airlines seeking a guaranteed source of revenue during uncertain times. Over the past spring, the EAS contract for Manistee, Michigan went up for bidding. Currently, the airport and the region is served by Ultimate Air Shuttle, offering service to Chicago Midway International Airport. 

New Airlines Bidding For Service

Four airlines submitted proposals for service to the DOT for the Manistee EAS route: Cape Air, Air Choice One, Southern Air Express and Boutique Air. Ultimate Air Shuttle chose not to submit a bid for continuing service. On April 27, two weeks after airlines submitted their bids, American Airlines submitted a letter to the DOT offering their support to Cape Air in their bid. On May 14, the Manistee Airport choose to support Cape Air’s proposal for air service to their community, as well, providing the carrier a second strong voice in the contentious fight.

While the decision to support Cape Air was also supported by the Manistee Area Chamber of Commerce, as well as the Manistee County Convention and Visitor Bureau, members of the public appear to differ in opinion. A majority of the comments submitted to the DOT by members of the community support the Boutique Air bid for air service. The DOT hasn’t made its decision on which airline to award the bid to. However, the opinion of the airport authority is weighted heavily. Although a decision hasn’t been made, Boutique Air has requested for Cape Air’s bid to be removed from consideration. 

Interference Claims From Boutique

Boutique Air is claiming that American Airlines’ support of Cape Air’s bid is anti-competitive behavior and is ground for the removal of Cape Air’s bid. In a letter to the DOT, the airline believes the inclusion of American’s letter of support “creates a misleading and unfair perception of competing contenders.” The airline is calling on the DOT to remove Cape Air’s bid on the grounds of interference by a non-competing airline in the bidding process. American Airlines is a codeshare partner with Cape Air, and have a longstanding relationship in the Caribbean and St. Louis, Missouri. 

Boutique also claims that in discussion with airport authorities, the decision to choose Cape Air’s bid was a difficult one and that the support of American for Cape Air likely played into the decision. United Airlines is a codeshare partner for Boutique but did not submit a letter of support for the airline in its bid. It is not clear why United did not submit support for Boutique in its bid for the Manistee air service. Boutique and American Airlines are also interline partners, developing a relationship in the latter half of 2019.

The DOT has yet to respond to Boutique’s letter for Cape Air’s bid removal. Both Cape Air and Boutique Air were unavailable for comment on the matter. Although the DOT has not made a decision, whichever bid it chooses may prove controversial. Both Boutique and Cape Air made strong bids for the service, and the community and authorities wound up with differing opinions on the best future for Manistee.

Daniel Morley
Daniel Morley
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