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EAS Round Up – Part 4

Four of the EAS carriers in this update, TOP: Denver Air Connection and Alaska Airlines BOTTOM: Southern Airways Express and Mokulele (Photos: AirlineGeeks | Joey Gerardi)

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 services changed to the current contract, they will be announced in this series.

Airports With Service Changes

Chadron, Nebraska (CDR)

This small community in northwestern Nebraska will be receiving a change in carrier, one not seen before in this part of the country. Florida-based Southern Airways Express, or SAE for short, will begin services from Denver Intl. to the Nebraskan city on June 21, 2021.

The carrier will operate 12-weekly round trip flights to Denver using a 9-seat King Air 200. The contract will run until May 31, 2023, at an annual subsidy rate of $2,737,716 for the first year and $2,806,159 for the second year.

A Boutique Air Pilatus PC-12 in Chadron, Neb. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Joey Gerardi)

SAE will be Denver’s 23rd airline and will take over the contract from San Francisco-based Boutique Air. The carrier has never operated flights to Denver before or even the King Air 200 for that matter. Denver will be the carrier’s newest hub and will operate similarly to their Imperial, Calif. flight as it’s the only flight they will operate in their respective regions.

Pierre (PIR) and Watertown (ATY), South Dakota

These two cities in South Dakota are paired together in the same contract process and are awarded on the same document.

Both of these cities will be making the switch from United Express branded service on board a SkyWest CRJ-200, to an Embraer-145 flown by Denver Air Connection operated by Key Lime Air.

This route pairing and circumstances go more in-depth than one initially thinks. Flights begin to both cities on July 1, 2021, but you can read more about the interesting circumstances behind these two HERE.

Airports Re-Selecting Carrier

Alliance, Nebraska (AIA)

Staying on the topic of Denver Air Connection, they have been reselected to continue service to this small community.

This community hosts what is one of the most unique routes available, as it’s the only remaining passenger flight being operated on a Fairchild Metroliner in the United States.

A Denver Air Connection Fairchild Swearingen Metroliner in Alliance, Neb. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Joey Gerardi)

AirlineGeeks even had an opportunity to ride on this unique aircraft, the trip report for it can be found HERE. This community is also the second smallest in the lower 48 states by passenger number. According to Federal Aviation Administration, they had 3,065 total enplanements in the 2019 calendar year, which is the most recent data they had.

Good news for those that still want to fly on the aircraft type, you have time. The renewal of the contract means the aircraft will continue flying the route until at least May 31, 2023.

Flights will operate to Denver 12 times a week at a subsidy rate of $2,396,291 for the first year and $2,444,216 for the second year.

Kalaupapa, Hawaii (LUP)

This small community on the island state of Hawaii has re-selected its hometown carrier for the next four years.

Mokulele Airlines, operated by Southern Airways Express, was reselected for the contract which now ends on April 30, 2025. They will offer 12-weekly flights to Honolulu, and 18-weekly flights to Molokai which is also located on the island of Mokoka’i.

The flight to Molokai is actually only 9-miles as the plane fly’s and is scheduled as a 13-minute flight, but this community is completely cut off from the rest of the island by mountains which is the reason for needing such a short flight.

The community of Kalaupapa, seen here surrounded by water on three sides and mountains on the fourth (Photo: Google Earth Satellite Imagery)

All flights are scheduled to fly on the carrier’s 8-seat Cessna 208. subsidy will be $1,482,660 for the first year, $1,519,726 for the second year, $1,557,719 for the third year, and $1,596,662 for the fourth year.

Kamuela/Waimea, Hawaii (MUE)

Another Hawaiian community has reselected Mokulele dba Southern Airways Express for the contract.

This contract will run also for four years, until June 30, 2025, and will operate using 9-seat Cessna 208 Caravans to Kahului, Hawaii 12-times weekly.

The subsidy rate will be $790,715 for the first year, $810,482 for the second year, $830,744 for the third year, and $851,513 for the fourth year.

This contract ended up getting renewed for the current carrier, but for a couple of months, some people thought they would lose it. The communities don’t choose the carriers, they recommend them and the decision is ultimately up to the Department of Transportation (DOT).

A Mokulele Airlines branded Cessna 208 sitting in Imperial, Calif (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Joey Gerardi)

The Mayor of Hawai’i County, Mitch Roth, originally recommended hometown airline Mokulele, but after about a month he took back his letter supporting Mokulele and instead recommended San Francisco-based Boutique Air be chosen for the contract.

In the end, the contract was renewed with Mokulele, this was due to the amount of subsidy money Boutique was asking for being much larger than Mokulele’s. We reached out to Mitch Roth as to the reason for the sudden change in heart, and this was his response; “The letter for Boutique was not so much a recommendation for a particular Air Line but more of one to open competition”.


Usually, we don’t go over EAS contracts in Alaska as the state has over 60 within this one state alone and they are hard to keep up with all of the frequent changes by the smaller local Alaska-based airlines, but these five cities are worth a mention.

One of the trips that are on almost every single AvGeek’s bucket list, Alaska Airlines’ Milk Run, has confirmed it will stick around for years to come.

The small passenger terminal in Wrangell, Alaska (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Joey Gerardi)

The Alaskan cities of Cordova (CDV), Yakutat (YAK), Wrangell (WRG), and Petersburg (PSG) are located along the Milk Run and will continue to see Alaska Airlines Boeing 737-700’s for many years.

Gustavus (GST), isn’t located along the Milk Run, but instead receives summer seasonal service from Juneau, Alaska with Alaska Airlines. Gustavus does receive non-subsidized service outside of the summer season using much smaller aircraft on local airlines.

The cities along the Milk Run will also get subsidy money for cargo flights, as airplanes are the main mode of transportation in and out of the communities, not only for people but the daily essentials.

The subsidy for Passenger flights are the following per-year:

Cordova: $2,059,427

Yakutat: $2,072,858

Wrangell: $2,258,269

Petersburg: $2,116,128

Gustavus: $192,446

The contract will run until April 30, 2023.


This is the updated map, as of June 3, 2021, of all the EAS contracts and their operators in the lower 48 states and Hawaii.

A diagram of the current (June 2021) providers of Essential Air Service in the United States, Excluding Alaska (Diagram: Gerardi Aviation Photography)

All numbers and information in this article come from publicly viewable documents on Regulations.gov

Joey Gerardi


  • Joey Gerardi

    Joe has always been interested in planes, for as long as he can remember. He grew up in Central New York during the early 2000s when US Airways Express turboprops ruled the skies. Being from a non-aviation family made it harder for him to be around planes and would only spend about three hours a month at the airport. He was so excited when he could drive by himself and the first thing he did with the license was get ice cream and go plane spotting for the entire day. When he has the time (and money) he likes to take spotting trips to any location worth a visit. He’s currently enrolled at Western Michigan University earning a degree in Aviation Management and Operations.

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