City Recommends SkyWest Continues Service, Provides Chicago Flights
If the Pierre City Commission gets its way, SkyWest will continue to serve the Pierre Regional Airport and will offer direct flights to both Denver and Chicago.
Because Pierre is an Essential Air Service (EAS) community, the City can endorse the commercial air service provider it prefers, but, as the contract holder, the U.S. Dept. of Transportation (USDOT) gets the final say. So, tonight the Commission made a unanimous vote to recommend SkyWest continue service to the Capital City and to forward that recommendation on to the federal government.
“If you eliminate COVID from the picture, it’s been nothing but blue skies at the Pierre Airport since SkyWest began serving the community in April last year,” said Pierre Mayor Steve Harding. “We have been thoroughly pleased with their safety, reliability, passenger capacity, and affordability.”
SkyWest’s current two year contract ends in April next year. The nearing end of that contract initiated a federal request for bids from airlines that are interested in serving the Pierre airport. Three airlines submitted bids for the new contract which begins May 1, 2021. Those airlines are Boutique Air, Denver Air Connection, and SkyWest.
“We were pleased to have three interested airlines,” said Cameron Howard, Pierre Airport Manager. “When we reviewed the proposals we looked hard at the pros and cons of each, while paying special attention to the ability to provide seamless passenger and baggage connections.”
Ability to handle passenger and hunting gear, as well as ability for passengers to transfer among airlines were just some of criteria the City looked at to determine which airline to recommend.
“Boutique and Denver Air just can’t meet the unique demands of our air travelers as well as SkyWest,” said Howard.
While SkyWest consistently uses bigger planes with more capacity, it also offered up a secondary hub with its top proposal this time. If selected by the USDOT, SkyWest will provide Pierre with 12 weekly flights split between Denver International and Chicago’s O’Hare airport. One-way tickets would average $110.
SkyWest also offered a secondary proposal with 12 weekly flights to only Denver. Under that proposal, one-way tickets would average $101. SkyWest’s secondary proposal got the City Commission’s second-place vote.
“We don’t know if the USDOT will be agreeable to the SkyWest package that includes the Chicago flights,” said Pierre City Airport Commissioner Jamie Huizenga. “We certainly hope they are. But if not, the Denver-only SkyWest option is certainly still a good one for us.”
The USDOT has its own review process to determine if an airline will be selected to serve an EAS community. Once it receives the City’s recommendation, the USDOT has up to 30 days to complete its review and award a contract. When awarded an EAS contract, commercial airlines receive a federal subsidy to make air service affordable in remote communities.