Alamosa granted air service waiver

ALAMOSA — The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) on Monday granted an Essential Air Service waiver for the SLV Regional Airport in Alamosa, meaning the airport will continue to receive subsidies to support local air service.

The DOT found that Alamosa and 24 other communities including Pueblo did not meet one or two statutory eligibility criteria required to remain in the Essential Air Service (EAS) program. However, the DOT decided to grant waivers for those two dozen communities ranging from Altoona, Pennsylvania to Prescott, Arizona.

To be eligible for EAS subsidies, a community must maintain an average of 10 enplanements or more per service day unless the city is more than 175 miles from an airport hub like Albuquerque, New Mexico (the nearest to Alamosa.)

Also, EAS subsidies cannot exceed $200 per passenger unless a community is more than 210 miles from an airport hub. (Alamosa is 205 miles from Albuquerque.) That cap can also be waived on a case-by-case basis for a limited time.

All of the 25 communities including Alamosa had exceeded that $200 per-passenger cap, and four communities that were subject to the 10-enplanment requirement averaged less than that. Alamosa is not subject to that requirement.

Alamosa petitioned for a waiver, as did other communities whose EAS was in jeopardy, and the DOT granted those waivers stating, “The Department acknowledges that there were challenges arising from the air service provided at these communities, including a nationwide commercial pilot shortage, that caused reliability issues and resulted in increases in the per passenger subsidy.”

The communities also told the DOT they were working to improve service and attract passengers and expected their per-passenger subsidies to decline.

The DOT ruled that Alamosa and a number of other communities were not compliant with the subsidy but was willing to grant a waiver from that requirement.

Alamosa exceeded the subsidy cap by $11 per passenger in 2017, or $211. The total subsidy paid to support Alamosa air service in 2017 was $2.6 million.

The EAS contract for the SLV Regional Airport is currently up, and current air service provider Boutique Air has asked to be considered to retain the contract. Two other airlines also bid for the contract, and the Alamosa County commissioners have recommended to the DOT that California Pacific Airlines (Aerodynamics Inc.) receive the contract. Denver Air Connection also bid for the contract.

The EAS annual subsidies requested by each of the airlines interested in Alamosa’s contract were $3.74 million for California Pacific; $3.53 million for Denver Air Connection; and $2.89 million or $3.39 million (depending on the size of the plane) for the first year of a new contract with Boutique Air.

The county officials recommended California Pacific because of its potential for growth, offering more seating capacity (50 seats) than Boutique Air, which would continue using 8 or possibly expand to 9 seats on its routes to and from Denver.