Skywest’s EAS Termination Request –

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One Year Later: Skywest’s EAS Termination Request

Roughly one year ago, in March of 2022, SkyWest requested to terminate 29 Essential Air Service communities around the United States. We are now a year later and a lot has changed, and it is not the only airline that has requested to terminate EAS communities as fellow commuter airlines Boutique Air and Cape Air have made similar moves.

There are some communities that went through the EAS process rather quickly and started their new airlines within a month or two of the process beginning. On the other end of the spectrum, there are some communities that still haven’t chosen a new carrier and are going through the process a second or even third time as they never got the result they wanted.

We will go over the 29 communities that were in that request, where they are in the process and what has happened to them since then.

This small community in Colorado was one of the first to receive a new airline under the EAS program with services starting in early June 2022. Denver Air Connection now serves this airport with flights to Denver on a mix of Embraer E145s and Dornier 328 Jet.

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

The destination is the same as with SkyWest/United, so the only thing that has changed is the airline and aircraft type servicing them.

The second Colorado community in the SkyWest ordeal also is seeing a new airline, Southern Airways Express did begin services to Pueblo from Denver in mid-January 2023. Flights operate on board an 8-seat King Air 200. Pueblo is the airline’s second destination from their new Denver hub.

These two communities have been linked together for a long time, even before SkyWest served there and the pilot shortage come around and they continue to be linked together. Skywest under the United Express brand continues to serve both communities with a nonstop flight to Chicago O’Hare and the tag flight between Mason City and Fort Dodge using the airline’s 50-seat CRJ-200 aircraft.

The Department of Transportation has issued an ‘Order Extending Service Obligation’ until March 11, which will keep the airline in the community until a new carrier is chosen and begins service. Even though the order expires soon, it will be extended like it has four times previously, and will continue to be until a new airline is chosen.

SkyWest still remains in this community as well, Boutique Air did bid for this community but was rejected as they didn’t want to waive the right to dual-engine aircraft. The ‘Order Extending Service Obligation’ also applies to this community until another airline has been chosen and starts service.

These two communities aren’t linked together in a flight but do have a similar time frame. SkyWest has been trying to start a new brand of flying called ‘SkyWest Charters LLC’ or SWC for short, which will utilize CRJ-200s that are retrofitted to only have 30 seats instead of 50 seats. That way they can fly and operate under a ‘Public Charter’ under 14 CFR part 380, therefore being able to hire pilots with fewer hours. Up to this point, SWC has not yet been approved for a commuter authority certificate but it is in the works.

What SWC is proposing for both Dodge City and Liberal is flights to Denver Intl. and either Chicago O’Hare or Houston Bush as a second airport. Flights would have a United codeshare according to the document but would use the SkyWest Airlines branding for the aircraft, ticket counters, and other such items. The contract has yet to be awarded and they remain with the service they had before the termination request.

Contour Airlines began service here in early December of 2022, they offer flights to Charlotte on board their 30-seat Embraer E135 or E145 aircraft. This is an Essential Air Service proposal, unlike the other contracts that Contour usually enters into, which are alternate EAS contracts.

A Contour Embraer E135 nicknamed “Pride of Contour” (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Joey Gerardi)

Not far away from Paducah, is another community that is now receiving Contour Airlines. The airline began service in December of 2022 offering nonstop flights to Nashville on the airline’s 30-seat Embraer E135 or E145.

This airport, located in Michigan’s upper peninsula will continue to see the same service for many years to come. The DOT has selected SkyWest/United Express for service to Chicago O’Hare on board the CRJ-200. This is the same service they had before so nothing is changing, the only difference is the subsidy they will be getting which is much higher than it was previously going from $2,204,520 a year to $6,507,497 a year.

Muskegon has also begun service with a new carrier, with Southern Airways Express beginning flights to Chicago O’Hare on board the 8 or 9-seat Cessna 208 Caravan. AirlineGeeks had the opportunity to go on the inaugural flight of this airline out of Muskegon, which can be found HERE.

Southern Airways Express counter in Muskegon (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Joey Gerardi)

Fort Leonard Wood was one of the few communities that came out on top with more destinations than it had before. Previously with SkyWest, they only got service to one city, Chicago O’Hare. Now with Contour Air, they get nonstop flights to both Nashville and Dallas Ft. Worth, making it possible to connect in the small community between the two larger cities. Services began in the Fall of 2022.

These two cities are in the same spot as Dodge City and Liberal, they have received bids for SkyWest Charters, or SWC, for flights to two airline hubs under the SkyWest branding. As of now the service to these two communities get flights to Denver with SkyWest under the United Express brand as well as a tag flight between the two communities.

With the SWC proposal, it would separate each community and they would both get nonstop service to two hubs. They are proposing service to Denver Intl. and Chicago O’Hare from both of the communities, and just like the other SWC proposal, it would be under the SWC brand but with United codeshares.

Jamestown has also received a bid from North Pacific Airways, which would utilize Dash-8s to Minneapolis/St. Paul 14 times a week. The contract has yet to be awarded to anyone and they remain with the service they had before the termination request.

Kearney also has received a new airline, Denver Air Connection began flying to the community in November of 2022. They now see 12-weekly flights to Denver Intl. on the airline’s 50-seat Embraer E145.

These communities have also yet to select a new carrier and rejected the proposals that were submitted the first time as the previous applicants didn’t satisfy one or more of the requirements put forth by the EAS program, they didn’t like the applicants and wanted to keep SkyWest, or they didn’t have dual engine airplanes and the city didn’t want to waive their right to that.

The most recent round of airline proposals for both communities was due on March 1, 2023, but have yet to be posted on at the time of writing this article.

Another community with the SkyWest charters proposal is in the works here as well. The airline is proposing 9 weekly round-trip flights on the proposed 30-seat CRJ-200. Flights would have a United Airlines codeshare and would offer flights to both Denver Intl. and Chicago O’Hare. The contract has yet to be awarded and they remain with the service they had before the termination request.

This was perhaps the most interesting outcome of any EAS community I have ever seen and did cause a lot of debates on whether or not the airline actually fit the requirements for an EAS contract, but it happened. Sun Country was selected for the EAS contract in this small community with twice weekly year-round flights to Minneapolis/St. Paul, and seasonal service to a mix of Orlando, Ft. Meyers, and Las Vegas, the last of which will become the longest EAS route in the entire country.

Flights are flown on board the airline’s 186-seat Boeing 737-800, the largest aircraft to be regularly scheduled on an EAS route. AirlineGeeks had the opportunity to fly on the Inaugural flight to this community, the trip report of which can be found HERE.

Sun Country’s ticket counter in Eau Claire (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Joey Gerardi)

All three of these communities were awarded an EAS contract with Contour Airlines and have very similar services and started roughly at the same time. All will receive 12 weekly flights on board Contour’s 30-seat E135 or E145 aircraft and each has its own nonstop flights to Charlotte. Flights to each of the communities began in December 2022.

The remaining six communities; Johnstown, Penn.; Joplin, Mo.; Meridian, Miss.; Hattiesburg, Miss.; Victoria, Texas; and Decatur, Ill. have all remained in virtually the same place application and EAS process-wise as when they started, and that place is nowhere. They have all had EAS proposals the first time around but they all rejected their respective bidders for one reason or another. They instead have chosen to remain with SkyWest, but with greatly reduced flight frequencies, in hopes that as the pilot shortage slowly improves they will regain the original number of weekly flights and destinations that they had prior to starting this debacle.

They also all have an “Order Extending Service Obligation” which expired on March 1, 2023, and hasn’t yet been extended but almost definitely will be as no carrier has been chosen yet. They also have a “Hold in rate” amount, which the DOT is giving the airline to keep them in the communities until a new carrier is chosen, and isn’t any payment on top of the normal subsidy they usually get when serving the cities, but is a rate they pay them on a monthly basis.

It would also be interesting to note that SkyWest hasn’t submitted a proposal for their 30-seat SkyWest Charters idea in any of these six communities. None of them are in a bidding or application process either, meaning they hope to weather out the storm and bet that things will eventually get better for SkyWest and they’ll return to the normally allocated service on the 50-seat SkyWest CRJ-200s.

It is evident from this massive EAS termination process, that some communities are open to change with some of them happening very early on relative to the normal EAS process. But other communities are very resistant and don’t want anything except their 50-seat SkyWest/United Express branded service, and they are willing to accept a little less now hoping that they go back to full service hopefully soon.

Some airlines have come out better than they were before the process began, while at the same time, there are other airlines that probably got a lot less than they were expecting. The EAS map is definitely more diverse than it was before with the United logo covering fewer and fewer cities on it, and other airlines doubling the number of EAS contracts and routes they have. And of course, the Sun Country wild card in Wisconsin was a big surprise as well to the entire aviation community.

One year ago the top three EAS airlines were United-branded SkyWest with over 40 contracts, Cape Air with 18, and Delta-branded Skywest contracts with 15. Flash forward almost a year later, United-branded SkyWest is still at the top but now with 27 contracts, Southern Airways Express is now at 19 contracts up from 13 a year ago, and Contour is at 17 up from only eight a year ago.

The EAS map one year ago, March of 2022 (Photo: Gerardi Aviation)

The EAS map now, March 2023 (Photo: Gerardi Aviation)

SkyWest isn’t the only airline that is requesting termination in EAS communities, Boutique Air requested termination with plans to rebid their communities citing higher costs, and Cape Air did the same citing pilot shortages for them. There is still a lot that could happen in the process and it does take time, but who knows what it will look like when it’s all said and done.

  • 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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