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Four of the EAS carriers in this update, TOP: Denver Air Connection and Delta Connection BOTTOM: Air Choice One and American Eagle (Photos: AirlineGeeks | Joey Gerardi)

EAS Round Up – Part 6

Essential Air Service (EAS) has been in the news frequently for 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.

The past four months have been particularly newsworthy in the EAS community, with SkyWest’s request to terminate 31 EAS communities and Southern Airways Express’ acquisition of Air Choice One. With airline proposals for 29 of SkyWest’s EAS communities originally due on April 11, 2022, and then extended a month until May 11, 2022, this felt like as good a time as any to go over EAS contract changes since the last edition of this article back in October of 2021 before all of the SkyWest community change announcements happen.

Airports With Service Changes

Jonesboro, Arkansas (JBR)

This community located in northeastern Arkansas has re-selected the current carrier Air Choice One for the contract, but with a new additional destination. Back when this contract renewal was announced in December of 2021, it wasn’t known that they would be acquired by Southern Airways Express in a few short months. This was to become Air Choice One’s only EAS contract, but the acquisition by Southern Airways Express means the latter mentioned carrier will now have possession of all four EAS contract communities in the state of Arkansas.

Air Choice One Cessna 208’s in Fort Dodge, a city they no longer fly to (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Joey Gerardi)

The Air Choice One name and brand will be replaced by Southern Airways Express by mid-summer 2022 according to SAE Chief Marketing officer Keith Sisson. This will also be the final contract that will ever be awarded to Air Choice One as that name will not be around once the contract expires in 2026.

Flights will operate to St. Louis 12 times weekly and Nashville six-times weekly. The contract began on March 1, 2022, and will run until Feb. 28, 2026. The subsidy will be $2,217,130 for the first year, $2,283,644 for the second year, $2,352,153 for the third year, and $2,422,718 for the fourth year.

Burlington, Iowa (BRL)

This city in southeastern Iowa was a former Air Choice One city and is now served by Massachusetts-based Cape Air. Flights began on Feb. 1, 2022, and will run until the contract expiration on Jan. 31, 2026. Although the carrier is new to this community, the destinations served from here won’t change and will offer 12-weekly flights to each Chicago O’Hare and St. Louis, for a total of 24-weekly flights.

A Cape Air Tecnam P2012 Traveller (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Joey Gerardi)

The subsidy will be $2,582 for the first year, $2,659,561 for the second year, $2,739,347 for the third year, and $2,821,528 for the fourth year. All flights are scheduled to operate on the Tecnam P2012 Traveller.

Imperial, California (IPL)

This is one of the three EAS airports in the state of California, this one is located along the southern part of the state not more than 10-miles from the US-Mexico border. The community was also the only EAS destination for Hawaii-based Mokulele on the mainland, but since then the Mokulele was bought by Southern Airways Express and now operates under that brand. They currently have flights to LAX airport, but come May 1, 2022, they will be adding a new destination from this community, Las Vegas.

The front of the terminal building in Imperial, Calif. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Joey Gerardi)

Flights will operate 18 times a week to LAX and six times a week to Las Vegas. All flights will be operated on the 8/9 seat Cessna 208 Caravan, as previously mentioned the contract will begin on May 1, 2022, and will run until April 30, 2026. The subsidy will be $2,920,934 for the first year, $2,993,957 for the second year, $3,068,806 for the third year, and $3,145526 for the fourth year.

Saranac Lake, New York (SLK)

This EAS community, located inside the Adirondack State Park finally got something they have been requesting for many years, a nonstop flight to the New York City Area. Cape Air still holds the contract at this airport, with 14-weekly flights to Boston and seven weekly flights to JFK Airport in New York City. The flights are scheduled to operate on the Tecnam P2012 according to the contract, although most tend to operate using the Cessna 402.

A Cape Air Cessna 402 in Saranac Lake, N.Y. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Joey Gerardi)

As previously mentioned, this contract began on March 1, 2022, the contract will run for the next four years until Feb. 28, 2026. The subsidy will be $2,557,622 for the first year, $2,634,351 for the second year, $2,713,381 for the third year, and $2,794,783 for the fourth year. This will be the only EAS flight to operate out of JFK Airport, but not the only one in the New York City area as nearby Newark Liberty does have one EAS contract which will be discussed later in this article.

McCook, Nebraska (MCK)

This small city in southwest Nebraska will be the latest city to get a new airline, currently, they have Boutique Air but come June 1, 2022, they will receive Denver Air Connection. Starting on June 1, 2022, until May 31, 2024, they will receive Denver Air Connection with flights to, you guessed it, Denver at a frequency of 12 times a week. Flights will operate using the Metroliner, a once almost extinct aircraft in the United States that will now see its second route along with fellow Nebraskan city Alliance.

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

Denver Air Connection’s route map is starting to look very familiar to Boutique Air’s old route map. This will be the fourth EAS city that DAC will take from Boutique in the past three years, the others being Clovis, N.M.; Theif River Falls, Minn.; and Ironwood, Mich. The subsidy will be $2,910,856 for the first year and $2,969,074 for the second year, with the contract ending on May 31, 2024.

Jackson, Tennessee (MKL)

Another Boutique Air city is going by the wayside, with the only EAS community in the state of Tennessee going to Southern Airways Express. Flights will operate 18 times a week to Atlanta-Hartsfield Jackson International Airport. So while the number of flights a week isn’t changing, they are losing St. Louis as a destination and all flights on the new carrier will be flown to Atlanta using the Cessna 208 Caravan.

SAE Imperial, Calif. check-in desk (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Joey Gerardi)

The contract begins on June 1, 2022, and will run until May 31, 2024, at s subsidy rate of $2,558,436 for the first year, and $2,622,397 for the second year, with the contract ending on May 31, 2024.

Airports Re-Selecting Current Carrier

Aberdeen, South Dakota (ABR) and Bemidji, Minnesota (BJI)

These next two cities are linked to the same contract and have identical service offerings from each EAS Community. Aberdeen, located in northeast South Dakota, and Bemidji, located in northcentral Minnesota will both have SkyWest service under the Delta Connection brand. Each community will see 14-weekly round trip flights to Minneapolis St. Paul on 50-seat CRJ-200

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

The contract began on March 1, 2022, and will run until Feb. 28, 2025. The only difference between the communities will be the subsidy cost; in Aberdeen, the subsidy will be at a rate of $3,207,595 annually, and in Bemidji, the annual subsidy rate will be $1,863,375. This difference in price is due to the flight length, as Aberdeen is a little bit further from Minneapolis.

Waterloo, Iowa (ALO)

This community in eastern Iowa is one of the only four-EAS contracts that American Airlines holds. Unlike most of the EAS contracts that are held by the regional carriers, this one is actually held by mainline American Airlines. What this means is that airlines have increased flexibility when it comes to the EAS communities, and they can serve them on any jet they wish to. Of course, you are not going to see a large jet here ever for obvious reason, but they can use any aircraft type they would like to as long as the contract is completed.

American uses the 50-seat Embraer E145 to serve this community with 13-weekly round trip flights to Chicago O’Hare, and flights are usually operated by Envoy. But due to the nature of who holds the contract, if some type of maintenance issue arises and Envoy is unable to operate flights they can swap out to Piedmont which also operates E145s, or even SkyWest and their CRJ-700.

The contract begins on May 1, 2022, and runs until April 30, 2024, at an annual subsidy rate of $3,986,989. Due to this being the same airline and destinations served at the present time, passengers flying the route will probably not even be aware of the contract renewal come May 1.

Decatur, Illinois (DEC)

Decatur, located in the center of Illinois currently has SkyWest under the United Express brand operating the flights to this community using 50-seat CRJ-200s to Chicago O’Hare. The contract began on Feb 1, 2022, and will theoretically run until Jan 31, 2025, at an annual subsidy rate of $2,572,847. The reason I say “theoretically” is due to the fact that Decatur is one of the 31 EAS communities that SkyWest has requested to terminate.

A United Express CRJ-200 arriving into Chicago O’Hare (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Joey Gerardi)

With the DOT denying the termination of SkyWest’s contract until a replacement carrier is found, and the EAS bidding process in the works, there is a very good chance that this contract will not make it to 2023 let alone the normal ending date of Jan. 31, 2025. The deadline for new carriers to submit their EAS service proposals are due on May 11, 2022, so there is a very high chance this city will be back in the news in the next month or so.

But until a new carrier is chosen and a decision has been made by the DOT, SkyWest under the United Express branding will continue serving Decatur to Chicago O’Hare. Flights to Chicago will operate 12 times a week, on the previously mentioned CRJ-200.

Owensboro, Kentucky (OWB)

This community will also be keeping their current airline, Cape Air, at least for the next two years. The contract began on Jan 1, 2022, and will run until Dec. 31, 2023, at a subsidy rate of $2,128,874 for the first year and $2,192,740 for the second year. Service is scheduled to operate 14-times a week to Nashville, Tenn., and seven times a week to St Louis, M.O., and all flights are scheduled to operate on the carriers Tecnam P2012 Traveller.

The subsidy rate will be $2,128,874 for the first year and, $2,192,740 for the second year.

Cape Air’s brand new Tecnam P2012 Traveller in Manistee, Mich. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Joey Gerardi)

Pellston, Michigan (PLN)

This city in the northern part of Michigan’s southern peninsula will be reselecting SkyWest under the Delta Connection brand. It was s super simple decision, the community has had Delta for many years, and Northwest before the merger. The contract began on Feb. 1, 2022, and will run until Jan. 31, 2025, at an annual subsidy rate of $2,313,625 with flights operating 12 times a week to Delta Air Line’s Detroit Metro hub.

My view from my seat on Delta’s CRJ-200 in Detroit (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Joey Gerardi)

Watertown, New York (ART)

Another one of American Airlines’ four EAS contracts has been renewed, Watertown is located in northern New York state and is the carrier’s only EAS contract east of the Mississippi River at this current point in time. Flights will operate onboard Embraer E145s to Philadelphia 12 times a week, and currently, most flights are operated by Piedmont. Although flights are operated by Piedmont, because the contract is held directly by American Airlines, they have the ability to switch to any of their regional operators at a moment’s notice.

An American Eagle Embraer E145 departing Watertown, NY (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Joey Gerardi)

The contract began on Feb. 1, 2022, and will run until Jan. 31, 2024, at an annual subsidy rate of $4,701,099.

Hibbing, Minnesota (HIB)

Another SkyWest city being selected for EAS renewal, this city is located in northern Minnesota will continue to receive 12 weekly flights to Minneapolis St. Paul under the Delta Connection brand. All flights are scheduled to operate on 50-seat CRJ-200s. The annual subsidy rate will be $3,889,635 per year, and the contract will begin on June 1, 2022, and will run until May 31, 2024. It is truly interesting to see how many Delta Connection branded SkyWest EAS communities are renewing their contracts, while at the same time SkyWest is requesting to terminate 31 United Express branded destinations.

Cody, Wyoming (COD)

This is another contract being held directly by the major carrier, in this case, United Airlines. United is able to use any aircraft it wishes on the route, again, obviously you will never see an Airbus or Boeing aircraft scheduled on the route, but they do have the ability to switch between aircraft types and regional carriers at will. Flights are contracted to be either on the CRJ-200 or Embraer E145 both of which have 50-seats and will operate from the airline’s Denver hub 14 times a week.

United Express regional jets lined up at its Rocky Mountain hub (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Joey Gerardi)

Another unique aspect of this contract is that it isn’t in effect for the entire calendar year, and they are only subsidized for service between Oct. 1 and May 31 each year. United provides unsubsidized service to Cody during the peak tourist months of June through September. Due to the seasonality of the contract, the subsidy rate is relatively low for jet service coming out at $996,968 annually, the contract will begin on June 1, 2022, and run until May 31, 2024.

Clovis, New Mexico (CVN)

This city made the switch from Boutique Air to Denver Air Connection back in 2020, and the community has been happy with the switch to DAC as they have been reselected for the contract here that will run for the next four years. The contract will begin on May 1, 2022, and will run until April 30, 2026, at an annual subsidy rate of $4,804,921.

A Denver Air Connection Dornier 328Jet at Denver Intl. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Joey Gerardi)

The carrier will provide six weekly flights to both Denver and Dallas Ft. Worth, for a total of 12 weekly flights out of Clovis. Flights are contracted to be on either a 30-seat Dornier 328Jet or a 50-seat Embraer E145, meaning the airline has the flexibility to add or reduce seats based on demand and aircraft availability.

Presque Isle, Maine (PQI)

This is another contract that is held directly by United Airlines, and another contract that has many unique aspects to it. First, it is the highest subsidy of any EAS contract in the lower 48 states at an annual subsidy rate of $10,874,142. That number is truly astounding considering the last time the contract was renewed in 2020 the annual subsidy rate was $6,838,045,  one of the extreme examples of how the cost of flying and operating aircraft has gone up dramatically since 2020.

United’s CRJ-550 in its new livery (Photo: AirlineGeeks)

And secondly, this is the only EAS route in the lower 48 states that will offer a first-class section on a regular basis, as all flights are scheduled to operate on United Express CRJ-550’s which are operated by GoJet. Flights from Presque Isle will operate to Newark Liberty Airport in New Jersey, making it the only EAS route to operate out of that airport. This contract will run for the next two years, beginning on June 1, 2022, and going until May 31, 2024.

Thief River Falls, Minnesota (TVF)

For the final community in this update, we have another former Boutique Air city, which was won by Denver Air Connection back in 2020. They along with Clovis, are very happy with the service DAC has provided in the past two years, and so happy that they have recommended they renew the contract for five years. Flights will continue to operate to Minneapolis St. Paul using either the 30-seat Dornier 328Jet or 50-seat Embraer E145, giving them the ability to swap aircraft types if operationally necessary.

A Denver Air Connection Embraer E145 at Chicago O’Hare (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Joey Gerardi)

This is the last time you will probably hear about this community for a long time, as the contract will begin on June 1, 2022, and will run all the way until May 31, 2027. The subsidy rate will be $5,801,566 for the first year, $5,975,603 for the second year, $6,154,871 for the third year, $6,339,517 for the fourth year, and finally $6,529,702 for the fifth year.

 

With SkyWest requesting to terminate 31 of their EAS cities, and them in the midst of the bidding process currently, this is probably the last time you will see the map below with so many United logos on it as come fall 2022, they all might be operating or planning to operate with a different airline.

 

This is the updated map, as of April 21, 2022, of all the EAS contracts and their operators in the lower 48 states and Hawaii.

A diagram of the current (April 2022) 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

Author

  • 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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