New York-based JetBlue Airways has proposed its first Essential Air Service (EAS) contract. Over the past couple of years, we…
Contour Adds Six New Destinations
SkyWest has had a rough couple of months, they requested to end 31 EAS contracts in the spring of 2022 and have combined about a dozen other communities into tag flights. It is seen in the industry that when one airline has its troubles, other airlines will step in and reap the reward. This was seen back in 2018 when Great Lakes Airlines collapsed, Boutique Air and SkyWest took over most of the EAS contracts from that airline; now it’s another airline’s turn.
Out of the 31 EAS communities that SkyWest has requested to terminate, 11 have officially chosen a new airline up to this point, and seven of them have gone to Contour Air. Plattsburgh and Ogdensburg in New York state were the first two and were chosen early on in the process and the carrier has already started serving both communities from Philadelphia.
The rest of the new Essential Air Service and Alternate Essential Air Service contracts are below and include what service they will get and when they will start. All flights are scheduled to operate on the carrier’s 30-seat Embraer E135’s.
Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri – TBN
This community is very familiar with Contour Air and has been served by them in the very recent past. SkyWest hasn’t even been in this community even a year as they had started service to the this airport in October of 2021. Even though this is technically a resumption, it is counted as a ‘new service’ because the contract was awarded to a different airline since the last time they flew here.
Contour Air will begin flights to Fort Leonard Wood on Oct. 1, 2022, and will fly 12-weekly flights to Nashville. These flights will operate under regular EAS at a rate of $4,449,693 for the first year, $4,761,172 for the second year, and $5,094,454 for the third year, with the contract running until Sept. 30, 2025.
Altoona, Pennsylvania – AOO
Altoona actually isn’t part of the mass SkyWest termination request and is the only community in this article with this being the case. However, it was part of a termination request by San Francisco-based Boutique Air, which wanted to terminate its contract due to rising costs and had plans to re-bid for the same service but at a higher cost. The airline did re-bid for a higher cost like they said they would, but they lost, and the community looked for a different option and went with Contour instead.
This is an Alternate Essential Air Service city, or AEAS, meaning the government pays the community through a grant, and the community then pays the airline directly for service to their community. It allows for more flexibility on the part of the airline and they can alter flights based on demand. It also means they don’t have to file for an ‘alternate service request’ if the airline needs or wants to switch service.
Altoona flights will operate to Philadelphia, and although the amount of flights isn’t specified in the document the carrier’s website is showing about 12-weekly flights. The contract will go until Sept. 30, 2024 with up to $4,280,002 being paid to the airline each year. This is another interesting aspect, the contract also gives the option for CRJ-200 service in addition to Embraer E135 service, given the airline doesn’t currently operate CRJ-200 in a 30-seat configuration this seems unlikely.
Lewisburg, West Virginia – LWB
This community starts on Nov. 1, 2022, and will receive 12-weekly flights to Charlotte. This is an EAS contract and will last until Oct. 31, 2025 at a subsidy rate of $5,971,353 for the first year, $6,389,348 for the second year, and $6,836,602 for the third year. This will be Contour Air’s third airport in the state of West Virginia.
Shenandoah, Virginia – SHD
This community will also start Contour service on Nov. 1, 2022, and will receive 12-weekly flights to Charlotte. This city will be almost identical to Lewisburg with the contract end date also being on Oct. 31, 2025. The EAS contract and subsidy rates are also very similar at $5,415,033 for the first year, $5,794,085 for the second year, and $6,199,671 for the third year. This will be Contour Air’s first airport in the state of Virginia.
Clarksburg, West Virginia – LWB
This community starts on Dec. 1, 2022, and will receive 12-weekly flights to Charlotte. This is an EAS contract and will last until Nov. 30, 2025 at a subsidy rate of $5,511,849 for the first year, $5,897,679 for the second year, and $6,310,516 for the third year. This will be Contour Air’s fourth airport in the state of West Virginia.
Paducah, Kentucky – PAH
This community starts on Dec. 6, 2022, and will receive 12-weekly flights to Charlotte. This is an EAS contract and will last until Nov. 31, 2025 at a subsidy rate of $5,554,654 for the first year, $5,943,479 for the second year, and $6,359,523 for the third year. This will be Contour Air’s first airport in the state of Kentucky.
Paducah, Clarksburg, Lewisburg, Shenandoah, and Fort Leonard Wood will be Contour Air’s first group of EAS communities as every other city they operate to is an Alternate Air Service contract. This is due to the fact that Contour operates as 14 CFR Part 380 Public Charter, and one of the rules of EAS contracts is the carrier must be ‘scheduled air transportation’. This is because Contour Air is technically called ‘Corporate Flight Management Inc. a/b/a Contour Aviation’ and that’s how they have been operating as a public charter to their current cities for this long.
For all of their contracts, they will be getting a waiver from the DOT 49 U.S.C. § 41732(a) which states that “that basic Essential Air Service (EAS) is scheduled air transportation”, meaning they can now operate these flights as 14 CFR Part 135 under the name Contour. Behind the scenes, these two airlines will be different in terms of regulations and rules as they will be operating under different DOT parts, but from the passenger side, these flights will look identical.
Contour does also have a baggage and interline agreement with American Airlines, so the communities that will offer flights to the Charlotte and Philadelphia hubs do have a lot to gain from this transition as both are significant American hubs. Nashville doesn’t have a huge American operation, but passengers can still connect to American hubs from there and beyond that with two stops.
These new Contour routes will bring the total number of EAS/AEAS contracts for the airline up to 16, which is now more than the number of Delta Connection branded SkyWest operated contracts which currently sits at 15. It also jumps Contour up to the third largest EAS Airline, behind United Express-branded EAS which stands at 29 services, operated under a mixture of SkyWest and CommutAir, and Massachusetts-based Cape Air which sits at 18.
There is still a lot that isn’t certain in the EAS community realm. A hand full of SkyWest EAS communities still haven’t had new carriers awarded officially by the DOT, and with Boutique Air and Cape Air both also posting termination requests for a few communities, there are a few airlines that still look to gain ground, or in this case sky, over the coming months and into the new year. Contour Air is definitely going to be one of these airlines to watch, as I am certain they will gain at least one or two more additional cities by the end of the year
The map below is Contour Air’s current route map in the eastern part of the United States, and includes routes that have been announced before, or on Sept. 3, 2022. It does not include their two routes out west, which are Phoenix to Page, Ariz.; and Oakland to Crescent City, Calif.
All flights and schedules in this article are subject to change, and all information was taken from publicly accessible documents on regulations.gov or the carriers’ website.
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