No date set for return of commercial air service to Cape

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Cape Girardeau faces an unknown period without commercial passenger air service after the U.S. Department of Transportation awards a contract later this week, a department spokesman said Tuesday.

There are no provisions in the contract for subsidies under the Essential Air Service program that set deadlines for beginning operations, spokesman Bill Mosley said in an telephone interview from his Washington, D.C. office.

The contract to replace Big Sky Airlines as the carrier for Cape Girardeau, Jackson, Tenn., and Owensboro, Ky., drew two bids, one from Great Lakes Airlines of Cheyenne, Wyo., and another from Air Choice One of Farmington, Mo.

While all three cities recommended that Great Lakes be awarded the contract. Great Lakes is asking for a total subsidy of $4.5 million to provide service to the three cities using Beechcraft 1900D aircraft, 19-seat, twin-engine turboprop planes. Air Choice One is offering to provide service with a smaller, 9-seat Cessna Grand Caravan aircraft and is asking for subsidy of about $2.7 million.

The bids are under review by department staff, Mosley said.

Despite the emergency status of the contract process, the department probably won't insist that the winning airline set a target date for providing service, Mosley said.

"There is nothing specific, not any kind of blanket requirement" for starting service, Mosley said. "If we selected a carrier and it was a protracted time or it didn't seem like they were going to go within a reasonable time, we may put the contract out again," he said.

Big Sky announced in December that it would cease service in the Eastern U.S. The last flight from Cape Girardeau was Jan. 7.

Before Big Sky's service, Cape Girardeau had no commercial passenger air service for more than eight months due to a Federal Aviation Administration decision to ground RegionsAir in March 2007.

Calls to Chuck Howell, president of Great Lakes, were not returned Tuesday.

Cape Girardeau Regional Airport manager Bruce Loy said he had not spoken to Howell since Thursday, when the Cape Gir-ardeau City Council finalized the recommendation for Great Lakes.

"I don't know anything new at this stage of the game," Loy said. "I am just kind of waiting on DOT like everybody else. Once I get confirmation that's the direction they are going, I will do what I can to coordinate with Chuck and get an idea of what direction he is going."

rkeller@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 126

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