'Best projection' for start of Cape air service is October

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Commercial air service from Cape Girardeau may not begin until October, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Transportation said Tuesday.

Big Sky Airlines, based in Billings, Mont., won a contract in early March to replace RegionsAir as the subsidized carrier for Cape Girardeau and three other regional cities under the Essential Air Service program. The Federal Aviation Administration grounded RegionsAir, citing training issues for airplane inspectors.

The contract period began June 1, but Big Sky has not flown any flights from Cape Girardeau. Last week, Big Sky president Fred DeLeeuw said the airline was having trouble finding enough qualified pilots to operate the flights.

Big Sky is supposed to provide three flights a day between Cape Girardeau and Cincinnati, Ohio. The airline has told the transportation agency that it won't be ready to provide service this summer, department spokesman Bill Moseley said. "Their best projection is October," he said.

Big Sky is also the contracted carrier for Owensboro, Ky., and Jackson, Tenn. Federal taxpayers will provide $3.2 million annually, or $748.60 per flight, to subsidize service from the three cities. Big Sky Airlines won't receive any of the money until flights begin, Moseley said.

While the delay is frustrating, the blame lies mostly with RegionsAir, which should have been able to continue service until the new contractor took over, said J. Fred Waltz, a member of the Airport Advisory Board. "If I am frustrated at anybody, it is RegionsAir," Waltz said. "They are the people to blame. You don't just get any kind of provider up and running in 90 days."

For more information, check back at www.semissourian.com or read Wednesday's Southeast Missourian.

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