U.S. Department of Transportation pushes back deadline for airline recommendations

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Editor's Note: This story has been edited to show the correct time of the Cape Girardeau City Council special meeting.

Cape Girardeau must wait a little longer than expected to find out which company will be the new airline offering subsidized commercial passenger service at the Cape Girardeau Regional Airport.

The U.S. Department of Transportation on Monday postponed for a week the date for six airports, including Cape Girardeau, to submit recommendations for contract carriers under the Essential Air Service program. The delay was granted at the request of Decatur, Ill., and Burlington, Iowa, department spokesman Bill Mosley said.

The Cape Girardeau City Council meets at 5 p.m. today in city manager Scott Meyer's office to discuss the recommendation from the Airport Advisory Board that Cape Air, a Hyannis, Mass.-based carrier be selected as the city's new passenger airline. The special meeting was set to meet the original Wednesday deadline for local recommendations.

Cape Air is promising four flights daily from Cape Girardeau to St. Louis in a nine-seat Cessna 402 airplane at a fare of about $50 each way.

The new deadline is Sept. 23, Mosley said. The department will make a decision soon after that date awarding the contracts. Local recommendations are important but not the only factor the department weighs making decisions. As a result, a community can receive a contract carrier that is not its preferred choice.

Of the other cities, Marion-Herrin, Ill., has asked for service from Cape Air. Another city, Quincy, Ill., selected a carrier in a closed meeting, but the choice must be ratified by the city's mayor and will not be made public until he does so, said Martin Stegeman, director of the Quincy Regional Airport. Five companies, including Cape Air, are competing for Quincy's service contract.

The Essential Air Service program supports passenger service from smaller cities. The subsidies help pay for moving passengers to a major airport to make connections on continuing flights. Seven airlines are asking for at least one of the six cities, including Cape Girardeau, being offered as a group. Along with Burlington and Decatur the other locations being offered are Quincy, Ill., Marion-Herrin, Ill., and Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.

All the cities being offered now have Great Lakes Airlines assigned to be their carriers. Few of the locations using Great Lakes are happy with the service, either because of limited schedules or high fares, and boardings are down substantially from just a few years ago in almost every airport. Great Lakes submitted a bid to retain just two of the locations -- the Waynesville-St. Robert Regional Airport on the Fort Leonard Wood Army base and Burlington.

Airport directors in Decatur and Burlington said their cities want service to Chicago.

Decatur Airport director Joe Attwood said two companies, Gulfstream Airlines and Air Choice One, are working to gain access to Chicago and that is why his city asked for a delay. Five companies in all, including Cape Air, sought Decatur's business.

"There are two suggesting that they may be able to gain access, but they have not been able to demonstrate that yet," he said. "By correspondence, they indicate they are close to doing something."

And in Burlington, where Great Lakes flies to both Kansas City, Mo,. and St. Louis, the issue isn't as much with the service as the fares and the destinations, said airport director Mary Beaird. The airport recorded 7,700 boardings in 2006, but only 1,200 so far this year, she said. Three airlines want Burlington's contract.

The Southeast Iowa Regional Airport Authority is waiting for comments from the Burlington Chamber of Commerce, but Chicago flights would be the primary reason for making a selection, she said.

"Chicago is the ultimate destination, and that plays huge into the decision," she said.

The one location that will not state a public preference is Fort Leonard Wood. The passenger terminal is under the direction of the U.S. Army, while general aviation is under the control of a board named jointly by Waynesville, Mo., and St. Robert, Mo. The airport is on Fort Leonard Wood property.

The U.S. Army won't issue public statements about the bid, said Mike Alley, spokesman for Fort Leonard Wood.

St. Robert attorney Kevin Hillman said his community is drafting a response but that it will only list pros and cons about the bids, not a preference.

All contracts are set to begin Nov. 1.

rkeller@semissourian.com

388-3642

Pertinent addresses:

Cape Girardeau Regional Airport, Cape Girardeau, MO

Decatur Airport, Decatur, IL

Quincy Regional Airport, Quincy, IL

Southeast Iowa Regional Airport, Burlington, IA

Williamson County Regional Airport, Marion, IL

Fort Leonard Wood, MO

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