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Alamosa Unable to Qualify for Part 139 Certification, Current EAS Contract Extended
Just like airlines, airports in the U.S. are required to be certified by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and must each pass a certain number of qualifications. The city of Alamosa, Colorado has been improving its airport, the San Luis Valley Regional Airport, for the past couple of years so that they may get certified under 14 CFR Part 139.
In order to qualify for Part 139 airport certification, a facility must have certain steps and procedures in place that make it able to handle larger aircraft. Two of the basic requirements to qualify for 14 CFR Part 139 certification is improved Aircraft Rescue and Fire Fighting services and updated fuel facilities.
The certification process and requirements go into much greater detail and can be found on the FAA’s website.
This small Coloradan airport is trying to get Part 139 certification for one reason in particular: the certification will enable them to receive scheduled and unscheduled flights onboard aircraft that hold more than nine passengers. Having the ability to receive aircraft bigger than nine passengers will in turn enable Alamosa to have scheduled air carrier service on a jet aircraft, something it has never had before.
San Luis Valley Regional Airport currently holds an Essential Air Service (EAS) contract with San Francisco-based Boutique Air, which flies eight- or nine-seat Pilatus PC-12s to and from Denver. The carrier has flown to San Luis Valley Regional Airport since 2016 when it took the route from Denver from now-defunct Great Lakes Airlines. Boutique currently operates the route four times daily most days of the week.
Chicago-based United Airlines, via regional partner SkyWest, was due to take over the EAS contract from the smaller carrier beginning on Oct. 1, 2020. The route was to be flown to Denver, same as Boutique, but instead with the much larger 50-seat CRJ-200. The route to Alamosa was announced by United at the beginning of August 2020.
But that has all changed: an order from the Department Of Transportation (DOT) was posted on Sept. 21 extending the current contract with Boutique Air. According to the document posted on the DOT website, Boutique will continue to serve the Alamosa region until March 31, 2021 or “the date when SkyWest commences full EAS service at [Alamosa], with the airport having received an airport operating certificate under 14 CFR Part 139.”
The airport was due to receive Part 139 certification during the month of September 2020 and be ready for SkyWest’s arrival on Oct. 1, 2020, but it was clearly unable to receive it, given the extension of the current contract. The inability to gain certification was either due to failure to meet one or more of the Part 139 requirements, an issue that was found by the FAA representative during inspection which was due to occur this month for a third unknown reason.
Regardless of the reason, Boutique’s current contract has been extended, and the carrier will continue to serve the Alamosa region with its four-times-daily flights in each direction.
Now for the tricky part: a lack of available seats for currently booked United passengers.
United began selling seats for the twice-daily Alamosa route on board the 50-seat CRJ in August. The switch means up to 200-passengers daily, in each direction, could be affected by the switch back to Boutique Air’s much smaller 8-seat Pilatus PC-12’s.
“We will continue to serve Alamosa with our existing flight schedule, four flights in each direction,” Boutique commented. Even with operating all eight flights at full capacity, they could only accommodate up 64 passengers a day, leaving up to 136-passengers without flights to Alamosa.
“We would book them on the next available flight, book them into another airport close enough to drive [to] or we would refund back to the original form of payment, but all of this would have to be discussed with one of our reservation agents over the phone,” United told AirlineGeeks about how affected passengers will be accommodated.
If passengers wish to rebook to the next closest United destination, it would be Pueblo, Colo., which is a two-hour drive from Alamosa.
The San Luis Valley Airport Administration has not yet responded to AirlineGeeks’ request for comment.
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