DENVER– Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet called on Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary Pete Buttigieg to expedite the Essential Air Service (EAS) contract review process for regional airports in Colorado. This comes after SkyWest Airlines announced its intention to stop operating 29 EAS routes, including to the San Luis Valley Regional Airport and Pueblo Memorial Airport, last month.
“The San Luis Valley Regional Airport in Alamosa, Colorado serves a region in South-Central Colorado larger than the state of Rhode Island,” wrote Bennet in the letter. “Surrounded by three mountain passes, the closest major airport is at least two hours away in Colorado Springs. SkyWest Airlines’ cancellation of these contracts surprised the airport and the broader community as enplanement numbers are increasing and service negotiations were recently finalized in October of 2020.”
Bennet continued: “The Pueblo Memorial Airport serves the South and Southeastern regions of Colorado and benefits greatly from EAS. Reliable and accessible air service, to and from Pueblo Memorial Airport, is necessary for Pueblo and the surrounding communities.”
DOT’s EAS program subsidizes airline service for small, rural airports to ensure the surrounding communities have access to commercial flights. Following SkyWest’s announcement, DOT issued a holding order to require the airline to keep operating for two months while the agency identifies replacement carriers for routes. Given the uncertainty of SkyWest Airlines’ service status to the San Luis Valley Regional Airport and Pueblo Memorial Airport, Bennet is urging DOT to expedite review of their EAS applications for routes to these airports to avoid service gaps and other potential issues.
In 2016, Bennet fought to secure a waiver to exempt the San Luis Valley Regional Airport from EAS requirements, allowing the airport to continue regional air service.
“SLV Regional Airport creates economic opportunities in every corner of the San Luis Valley. Unfortunately, SkyWest has announced plans to discontinue service to Alamosa and 28 other communities. Considering this recent announcement and with concerns about a disruption in service, Alamosa County Commissioners strongly recommend Denver Air Connections to US DOT because they are offering to meet or exceed the SkyWest model of providing airplanes that seat a minimum of 30, offering 12 non-stop round-trip flights per week and offering interline agreements so passengers don’t experience baggage limitations and issues,” said Michael Yohn, Chair, Alamosa County Commissioners.
“The Pueblo Memorial Airport is a convenient and necessary service to our citizens here in Pueblo and provides accessibility to our Southern Colorado region. It is critical that services here in Pueblo are prioritized so we can offer flights that meet the needs of our community. Many people use Pueblo as their connection to Denver and beyond which allows for less out of pocket expenses for gas and parking associated with air travel, which is why EAS airports need reliable airline partnerships,” said Nick Gradisar, Mayor, City of Pueblo.