The airline providing passenger flights to and from Havre is investigating a major change in its destination — connecting Havre directly to Denver instead of flying to the Billings airport.
“They feel there is a growth market here,” Havre City-County Airport Manager Jim Lyons said.
Lyons, the members of the Hill County Commission and Tim Solomon, the Havre mayor and former interim airport manager, said their main goal now is to find out how much support people in the community have for the switch.
“There are questions,” Lyons said.
“We’re feeling out the needs of Havre,” Solomon added.
Kassi Mohlenkamp, spokesperson for Great Lakes, said her company understands the importance of interstate connections, but the connections that can be made in Denver are so much higher that it seems to be a better destination.
“It is a much more serviceable hub,” she said.
Great Lakes took over the service — through which the federal government subsidizes passenger air service in small communities where the service generally is unprofitable — in 2008. That was after Big Sky Airlines, the Montana-founded company that had provided Essential Air Service in Montana since 1980, announced at the end of 2007 it was going out of business.
Great Lakes provides service to Havre and Glasgow, Glendive, Lewistown, Miles City, Sydney and Wolf Point under the program. Currrently, Miles City and Sidney passengers fly to Denver, while the rest fly to Billings.
Mohlenkamp said the only proposed change at the moment is for the Havre route. The rest would continue to fly to Billings.
The flight from Havre would not be a true direct flight to Denver. A short stop — predicted to last a few minutes — will be made in Wyoming en route.
Not everyone in the Havre area is excited about the idea of switching destinations, said Hill County Commissioner Kathy Bessette.
Bessette said she has been approached by people who use the Billings flight to visit relatives or to go to medical appointments with specialists there. Those people don’t want to lose that service.
Commission Chair Mike Wendland said there seems to be a need to have some flights instate.
“We just feel there is still a need for a Billings connection,” he said, adding that he would like to see one or two flights to Billings each week even if the switch is made to fly to Denver.
Lyons said Great Lakes indicated the connection would be much more convenient for people flying in to or out of Havre. That is especially true with major airlines reducing their flights in communities like Billings and Great Falls.
Lyons said the Great Lakes representatives told the board that people flying into the Billings airport have the option of six destinations on flights departing from that facility, with a total of 35 flights a day.
People connecting in Denver can select from 140 destinations with 900 flights departing each day.
He added that the Montana flights that already connect to Denver instead of Billings, from Glendive and Miles City, have seen a 40-percent increase in passengers.
Montana State University-Northern Chancellor Frank Trocki said he supports switching the destination to Denver “without question.”
He said having the Denver flights would be a direct benefit to Northern, allowing people to fly directly in to and out of Havre for interviews and meetings. Now, that often requires driving down to pick people up at the Great Falls airport, or paying for a car rental and often hotel rooms.
“That’s a loss of productivity and money, where we have an airport five minutes away,” Trocki said.
He added that Great Lakes is indicating that most passengers flying out of Havre get on a plane in Billings to fly to Denver for another connection already.
“Their marketing strategy is appropriate. They see where people are going,” he said.
Trocki added that he believes the switch would benefit the area.
“It’s serving the community, it’s serving work-force development,” he said. “I think it’s a smart move.”
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