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EAS board to decide local flights’ future

 


EAS board to decide local flights' future

The control of rural Montana air travel is up in the air this week, as the Essential Air Service board meets in Billings on Thursday.

Representatives of the two airlines that offered bids for the Department of Transportation program, current service provider Wyoming-based Great Lakes Airlines and newcomer Florida-based Gulfstream Airlines, will meet with the board to argue for their proposals. Then the board will decide who gets the approximately $8 million to fly Montanans about.

The board is made up of representatives of eight of Montana's smaller airports that receive the DOT's Essential Air Service, including Gerry Grabofksy for the Havre City-County Airport.

A few weeks ago Grabofksy said he still had some questions for both airlines.

Tuesday, both airlines answered some concerns about the ability to provide service. Great Lakes Airlines

Great Lakes President Charles Howell recognizes that his airline has had reliability issues recently.

"In hindsight, winter probably wasn't the best time to change our service, " Howell said. "But que sera sera, we did it, and now we're trying to take care of it. "

Howell said that the reliability concerns, like leaving EAS board member Grabofsky in Denver over the Thanksgiving holiday, were a combination of several factors.

First, the suddenness and severity of this winter caught the airline off guard. Howell said that the airline hadn't dealt with anything like this winter since Great Lakes replaced Big Sky Airlines in 2008.

Other issues, Howell admitted, were within the airline's control, and were being worked on.

"We've had our own operational issues, " Howell said. "The ones we control, we're doing our best to take care of. "

For Great Lakes, if a plane has to wait because of weather or runway conditions, the staffs are still on the clock. And according to Federal Aviation Administration regulations, these staff members have to have a certain amount of rest before flying again, which has caused the airline some scheduling difficulty as the state is blanketed in snow and ice.

In hopes of relieving some of this difficulty, Howell said that the airline planned on having a crew in Havre.

Howell hopes to clear these issues up, as he recognizes the importance of and interest in the Havre to Denver flights.

"If you looked at the numbers, your enplanements doubled, " Howell said. "And so it does say there is a huge demand for the Denver market. "

According to Howell, the Denver airport handles 880 flights a day. Billings takes care of 32.

Howell's competition in this EAS bid, differs.

Gulfstream Airlines

The new bidder for this federal program is a regional airline, based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. It handles flights around the Caribbean and offers, as a part of the Essential Air Service program, flights out of Cleveland, Ohio, to cities, in southwestern New York, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

Its bid for Montana service would go back to flying from Montana's smaller subsidized airports — Havre, Glendive, Glasgow, Sidney, Wolf Point, Lewiston and Miles City — to Billings and back.

According to Mickey Bowman, Gulfstream's vice president of corporate development, this would entail setting up a service center in Billings to service the four planes used, three used regularly with a dedicated spare. Bowman said the service center would create between 12 and 20 jobs in the Billings area.

Bowman said that the airline is prepared to deal with what Montana has to offer and would not be plagued by Great Lakes' reliability issues.

"We're pretty used to winter, " Bowman said. "If you go back and look over how we've done in Cleveland, you can see that we've had a controllable completion factor of 98 percent. We are very methodical in our plans and and then follow through. "

Gulfstream has it's own issues, though.

This week the company is just wrapping up a bankruptcy auction, and it is being acquired by a Victory Park Capital.

"A bankruptcy judge has approved our acquisition by Victory Park Capital, " Bowman said. "As a result of Victory Park's infusion of $30 million, we're actually much better off coming out of it. "

Gulfstream's attorney in the bankruptcy process, Brian Gart, said that the sale should not affect the Montana bid.

"I don't think the bankruptcy would interfere with the services they are pursuing, " Gart said. "I have every reason to believe that they are supportive of the airline continuing service and operating Essential Air Service for the government. "

Both of these leaders will be attending the meeting in Billings Thursday and plan to offer the best arguments as to why they should be flying Montanans for the next two years.

The control of rural Montana air travel is up in the air this week, as the Essential Air Service board meets in Billings on Thursday.

Representatives of the two airlines that offered bids for the Department of Transportation program, current service provider Wyoming-based Great Lakes Airlines and newcomer Florida-based Gulfstream Airlines, will meet with the board to argue for their proposals. Then the board will decide who gets the approximately $8 million to fly Montanans about.

The board is made up of representatives of eight of Montana's smaller airports that receive the DOT's Essential Air Service, including Gerry Grabofksy for the Havre City-County Airport.

A few weeks ago Grabofksy said he still had some questions for both airlines.

Tuesday, both airlines answered some concerns about the ability to provide service.

Great Lakes Airlines

Great Lakes President Charles Howell recognizes that his airline has had reliability issues recently.

"In hindsight, winter probably wasn't the best time to change our service, " Howell said. "But que sera sera, we did it, and now we're trying to take care of it."

Howell said that the reliability concerns, like leaving EAS board member Grabofsky in Denver over the Thanksgiving holiday, were a combination of several factors.

First, the suddenness and severity of this winter caught the airline off guard. Howell said that the airline hadn't dealt with anything like this winter since Great Lakes replaced Big Sky Airlines in 2008.

Other issues, Howell admitted, were within the airline's control, and were being worked on.

"We've had our own operational issues, " Howell said. "The ones we control, we're doing our best to take care of. "

For Great Lakes, if a plane has to wait because of weather or runway conditions, the staffs are still on the clock. And according to Federal Aviation Administration regulations, these staff members have to have a certain amount of rest before flying again, which has caused the airline some scheduling difficulty as the state is blanketed in snow and ice.

In hopes of relieving some of this difficulty, Howell said that the airline planned on having a crew in Havre.

Howell hopes to clear these issues up, as he recognizes the importance of and interest in the Havre to Denver flights.

"If you looked at the numbers, your enplanements doubled, " Howell said. "And so it does say there is a huge demand for the Denver market. "

According to Howell, the Denver airport handles 880 flights a day. Billings takes care of 32.

Howell's competition in this EAS bid, differs.

Gulfstream Airlines

The new bidder for this federal program is a regional airline, based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. It handles flights around the Caribbean and offers, as a part of the Essential Air Service program, flights out of Cleveland, Ohio, to cities, in southwestern New York, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

Its bid for Montana service would go back to flying from Montana's smaller subsidized airports — Havre, Glendive, Glasgow, Sidney, Wolf Point, Lewiston and Miles City — to Billings and back.

According to Mickey Bowman, Gulfstream's vice president of corporate development, this would entail setting up a service center in Billings to service the four planes used, three used regularly with a dedicated spare. Bowman said the service center would create between 12 and 20 jobs in the Billings area.

Bowman said that the airline is prepared to deal with what Montana has to offer and would not be plagued by Great Lakes' reliability issues.

"We're pretty used to winter, " Bowman said. "If you go back and look over how we've done in Cleveland, you can see that we've had a controllable completion factor of 98 percent. We are very methodical in our plans and and then follow through. "

Gulfstream has it's own issues, though.

This week the company is just wrapping up a bankruptcy auction, and it is being acquired by a Victory Park Capital.

"A bankruptcy judge has approved our acquisition by Victory Park Capital, " Bowman said. "As a result of Victory Park's infusion of $30 million, we're actually much better off coming out of it. "

Gulfstream's attorney in the bankruptcy process, Brian Gart, said that the sale should not affect the Montana bid.

"I don't think the bankruptcy would interfere with the services they are pursuing, " Gart said. "I have every reason to believe that they are supportive of the airline continuing service and operating Essential Air Service for the government. "

Both of these leaders will be attending the meeting in Billings Thursday and plan to offer the best arguments as to why they should be flying Montanans for the next two years.

 

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