Tim Leeds Havre Daily News firstname.lastname@example.org
Residents in Havre and three other eastern Montana communities will soon be able to book flights directly to Billings once again as Great Lakes Airlines (formerly Great Lakes Aviation) resumes Essential Air Service in those towns. "This is great news!" Said Deb Vandeberg, executive director of the Havre Area Chamber of Commerce." The commercial air service interruption our community has experienced with the loss of Big Sky Airlines has had a negative affect on our businesses' ability to do business the past several months. Regular and dependable air service is needed for area economic development, business growth and for attractiveness to those looking to move here for work." Great Lakes announced Wednesday it would offer flights Feb. 1 from Logan International Airport in Billings to Havre, Glendive, Wolf Point and Glasgow and back, a service lost since Big Sky Airlines shut down in March 2008. Monica Taylor of Great Lakes said this morning that the new flights and a flight from Sidney will connect with Billings, while Sidney and Lewistown and Miles City will continue flights to Denver as well. The flights will start with just one flight a day to each community, with plans to expand as more aircraft become available, Taylor said. “We just wanted to start getting service going,” she said. Big Sky had served Havre, Glasgow, Glendive, Lewistown, Miles City, Sydney and Wolf Point since 1980 under the federal Essential Air Service program, which subsidizes air service to small communities. Montana’s congressional delegation, which pressured Great Lakes to resume operation as soon as posible, applauded the airlines’ action. “This announcement is wonderful news for rural Montana residents. In many eastern Montana towns, EAS is the only quick and convenient way to travel for work, vacation and medical care,” Rep. Denny Rehberg said in a press release. “I look forward to once again seeing EAS airplanes pulling onto Logan International Airport runway,” Rehberg added. Montana’s senior U.S. Sen. Max Baucus also commended Great Lakes. “I’m pleased that Great Lakes Aviation is resuming flights brom Billings to communities in the eastern part of the state,” Baucus said in a press release. “Essential Air Service is vital to folks who need to travel for work or pleasure. It’s a lifeline to our rural communities.” Montana’s Sen. Jon Tester said he dedicated two of his staffmembers to working with Great Lakes to restoring the service, a key part of the transportation infrastructure in rural Montana. He said the resumption of service will boost the state’s economy and create jobs. “Great Lakes did the right thing for rural Montana,” Tester added. The subsidized air service in eastern Montana came to the forefront in December 2007 when the MAIR holdings of Minneapolis, the parent company of Billings’ Big Sky Airlines, announced it was ending all of Big Sky’s Essential Air Service flights. Later in December, the Federal Department of Transportation announced it would award Big Sky’s conTracts to Great Lakes. That airline had also bid on the contract, but DOT had awarded it to Big Sky in November. Great Lakes was the only other airline to bid on the contract. The companies at that time announced they would work together to provide a seamless transition of service. Big Sky went out of business before that could happen, with its last EAS flights in March. Great Lakes, citing problems in finding aircraft and qualified pilots as well as the skyrocketing cost of fuel, was unable to resume any flights until September. At that point, Great Lakes started making flights to Sidney and Lewistown from Denver. Baucus said he wants to expand the servie to other parts of the state. “Now that Essential Air Service has resumed to all of the Montana communities that originally had it, I’m going to work together with Great Lakes Aviation to expand service to other parts of our state,” he said. “Essential Air Service can play an important role in creating and sustaining good-paying jobs and boosting our state’s economy.” Great Lakes reservation hotline: (800) 554- 5111 On the Net: flygreatlakes.com.