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Four of the EAS carriers in this update, TOP: Southern Airways Express and Air Choice One, BOTTOM: Boutique Air and SkyWest

EAS Round Up – Part 2

Essential Air Service (EAS) has been in the news frequently the past couple of months, and large airports aren’t the only airports that have news to report on. This is a continuation of the series, titled ‘EAS Round up’, and will touch on any news regarding the contracts in the EAS airport community since the last EAS Round-Up which can be viewed HERE.

Whether it is a new airline being selected for a city, the current airline being re-selected to serve the community, or there are noticeable service changed to the current contract, they will be announced in this series.

Airports With Service Changes

Mason City (MCW) and Fort Dodge (FOD), Iowa 

These two cities are both located in Northern Iowa, although Mason City is slightly further north than Fort Dodge. They have been linked together since at least Mach of 2017 and have had service with Air Choice One on board the carriers Cessna 208 Caravan.

The current carrier fly’s between Mason City and Fort Dodge with a short 61-mile flight, meaning that residents of both cities have the option to fly to three cities, two of which are non-stop. If someone from Mason City wants to fly to St. Louis they can connect through Fort Dodge, if someone from Fort Dodge wants to fly to Chicago O’Hare they can connect through Mason City. Both cities have non-stops to Minneapolis.

The current flights on Air Choice One (Map: GreatCircleMapper)

But under the new contract, all of that will change. SkyWest, under the United Express banner, will operate flights from both Mason City and Fort Dodge to only one destination, their Chicago O’Hare hub, using the 50-seat CRJ-200.

The contract will run from March 1, 2021, until Feb. 29, 2024. The annual subsidy rate will be $3,071,656 from Fort Dodge and $3,006,057 from Mason City. SkyWest will operate 12 weekly round trip flights to both cities, making it 24 total weekly between the two.

While some residents of the two cities will miss the option of three cities, it’s almost certain the presence of a major airline will make all their pain go away.

Service Changes to Current Contracts

Switching any aspect of an Essential Air Service contract isn’t as easy as it sounds. Unlike a conventional airport, these routes are flown under contract and airlines must request all changes, no matter how minor, to the person they are in agreement with.

Whether they want to switch the destination from a city, or simply switch the number of flights per day, it must be approved by the Department of Transportation first.

The process is accomplished like this; airlines submit a document to the DOT called the “Alternate Service Pattern Request”. The DOT then looks over the request to see if it still follows the basic requirements all EAS contracts must follow.

In some cases, the communities where the airlines are requesting service changes will send documents or comments to the DOT in support of, or against, the proposed change.

Airlines don’t often change their service to these cities as it does require some time to go through the process. The desire to change is usually brought about by a shift in demand from the city, the desire of community leaders to try something new, or a host of other factors.

Muscle Shoals, Alabama (MSL)

This EAS city has hade quite an eventful couple of months. Before July of this year, the city only had one destination, Atlanta-Hartsfield, which was flown four times daily. In August of 2020 the airline currently flying there, San Francisco-based Boutique Air, reopened Nashville, Tenn. and shifted two of the four Atlanta flights to the new city.

One of Boutique’s Pilatus PC-12’s in Muscle Shoals, Alabama (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Joey Gerardi)

At the beginning of December 2020, AirlineGeeks held an interview with the carrier about their newest destination and first in the state of Florida…Pensacola.

On December 15, 2020, the San Francisco-based carrier moved their two daily EAS-funded departures from Nashville to Pensacola, Fla. This change means that the small community of Muscle Shoals will have up to six-daily departures to three cities, which is unusually rare for an EAS city.

Boutique Air’s destinations out of Muscle Shoals, Ala. (Photo: Boutique Air)

The flights to Nashville from Muscle Shoals will continue to operate, but they will be flown ‘at risk’, meaning they won’t be receiving any EAS funding for it and will be entirely at the airlines’ expense. Will be interesting to see how the flight will pan out, as the flight from Atlanta to Pensacola with a stop in Muscle Shoals costs considerably less than Delta’s non-stop.

The end date of the contract will not change with the alternate service pattern and will be in effect until Feb. 28, 2022. There will also be no change in the annual subsidy rate.

Massena, New York (MSS)

This small community along the St. Lawrence River in northern New York state is the next city to receive a service change.

Once again San Francisco-based Boutique Air requested a change to better suit the needs of the community it serves. Boutique currently, as of Dec. 31, 2020, fly’s 21-weekly round trip flights from Massena to Boston’s Logan Airport. The carrier requested and was approved, to move seven of the 21 weekly flights to Baltimore in lieu of Boston.

The Department of Transportation approved the alternate service pattern on Dec. 18, 2020, and is shown by a public document posted on Regulations.gov.

The San Francisco-based carrier previously operated flights from Massena to Baltimore as well as Albany, N.Y. as recent as the spring of 2018. But those flights to both Albany and Baltimore were dropped in favor of thrice-daily service to Boston.

A snapshot of the airlines 2018 Massena route map, showing service to Baltimore, Albany, and Boston (Photo: Boutique Air)

Although the carrier hasn’t formally announced the resumption of the Massena-Baltimore route to the public, flights to Baltimore are now bookable with flights beginning Jan. 10, 2020.

The annual subsidy rate will not change and nor will the end date of the contract change.

Also stated on the DOT documents regarding the alternate service pattern is this; “Because the Department [of Transportation] is allowing the alternate service pattern and not requiring it, Boutique Air may revert to the original service pattern at any time”

Airports Re-Selecting Carrier

DuBois, Pennsylvania (DUJ)

This Pennsylvanian city will once again see Southern Airways Express operating to the community, and all flights will be flown using the carrier’s eight-seat Cessna 208 Caravan’s.

The contract began on Nov. 1, 2020, and will run until Oct. 31, 2024. Flights will operate 24 round trips a week to Pittsburgh and 14 to Baltimore, the Baltimore segment could be switched to either Washington Dulles or Reagan at the discretion of the carrier.

The annual subsidy will be $3,184,014 for the first year, $3,263,614 for the second year, $3,345,205 for the third year, and $3,428,835 for the fourth year.

A Sothern Airways Express Cessna 208 Caravan (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Joey Gerardi)

Morgantown, West Virginia (MGW)

This small city in northeastern West Virginia will be keeping it’s EAS carrier and current service for a while longer.

As with the previously mentioned city, DuBois, this community will be retaining service with Southern Airways Express onboard the Cessna 208 Caravans.

They will also be receiving non-stop flights to both Pittsburgh and Baltimore, 24 and 14 weekly round trip flights respectively. As with DuBois, the Baltimore segment could be switched to either Washington Dulles or Reagan at the discretion of the carrier.

The contract began on Nov. 1, 2020, and will run through Oct. 31, 2024, at an annual subsidy of $3,146,083 for the first year, $3,224,735 for the second year, $3,305,353 for the third year, and $3,387,987 for the fourth year.

Midwestern United States

As expected, some Essential Air Service contracts around the country will coincide with each other. This is the reason for these next six EAS cities, which are spread throughout the states of Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota lining up almost perfectly, and all offering nearly the exact same service.

The remaining six cities will all hold contracts with SkyWest on board a Delta Connection branded 50-seat CRJ-200.

One of Delta Connections CRJ-200’s operated by SkyWest at Minneapolis St. Paul (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Joey Gerardi)

Escanaba, Michigan (ESC)

The Delta County Airport will have 12-weekly round trip flights to Detroit Metro or Minneapolis St. Paul, and is up to the carrier’s discretion which destination they choose. The contract will run from Jan. 1, 2021, until Dec. 31, 2023, at an annual subsidy rate of $3,184,053.

Iron Mountain, Michigan (IMT)

Flights from the Ford Airport will be 13-weekly round trip flights to a mix of Detroit Metro and Minneapolis St. Paul. The contract will run from Feb. 1, 2021, until Jan. 31, 2024, at an annual subsidy rate of $3,868,146.

Sault Sainte Marie, Michigan (CIU)

Service from the Chippewa County Airport will be 13-weekly round trip flights to a mix of Detroit Metro and Minneapolis St. Paul. The contract will run from Feb. 1, 2021, until Jan. 31, 2024, at an annual subsidy rate of $3,423,267.

Brainerd, Minnesota (BRD)

Brainerd Lakes Regional will offer 12-weekly round-trip flights to only Minneapolis St. Paul. The contract will run from Feb. 1, 2021 until Jan. 31, 2024, at an annual subsidy rate of $2,043,505.

International Falls, Minnesota (INL)

Falls International Airport will offer 12-weekly round trip flights to only Minneapolis St. Paul. The contract will run from Feb. 1, 2021, until Jan. 31, 2024, at an annual subsidy rate of $3,388,905.

Rhinelander, Wisconsin (RHI)

The Rhinelander Oneida County Airport will offer 14-weekly round trip flights to only Minneapolis St. Paul. The contract will run from Feb. 1, 2021, until Jan. 31, 2024, at an annual subsidy rate of $2,560,031.

Joey Gerardi
Joey Gerardi
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