ALAMOSA — Like last year, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has granted the San Luis Valley Regional Airport an Essential Air Service (EAS) waiver. Along with 18 other airports around the county, SLV Regional Airport learned Thursday that their request to exceed the $200 per passenger federal subsidy cap in the 2016 fiscal year was approved.
“The airport is grateful to the DOT for approving our waiver request,” said SLV Regional Airport Manager Dustin Allinger in an email on Friday. “We are equally grateful to the community members and leaders that submitted letters of support for the granting of this waiver. The customer experience that Boutique Air has provided the community has helped to double the passenger use over the last year.”
In the Dec. 29 letter that the airport received on Jan. 4, the DOT states 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.”
As was the case for Alamosa switching from Great Lakes Airlines to Boutique Air during FY 2016, the letter also mentioned that “many communities currently have a new air carrier and passenger levels are increasing.
“All of these 18 communities, both those that have and have not experienced a carrier change, have indicated that they are working with their carrier to improve service and attract passengers, and expect their subsidy per passenger to decline.”
The EAS subsidy, which incentivizes airlines to service rural communities, was in jeopardy because the airport is only 205 miles from Albuquerque International Sunport. The Department of Transportation and Related Agencies Appropriations Act states that only airports 210 miles away from a larger airport can exceed the $200 cap. The previous waiver for FY 2015 allowed it to go over to $268 a ticket and the recent FY 2016 waiver approved a $296 per passenger subsidy.
Before Boutique Air took over last October, Great Lakes Airlines had 2,684 enplanements for the entire time they were in service in 2016. In the remaining three months Boutique almost reached half that amount with 1,169 enplanements.
Including figures only up until the end of September, Boutique had 9,697 enplanements in the first nine months of 2017.
Though Boutique Air has provided the community with better service and has operated below the $200 subsidy since June, it wasn’t enough to lower the annual average due to subsidies as high as $253.77 in January.
“We anticipate that the subsidy per passenger will be reduced to $207 per passenger for 2017, requiring one additional waiver request,” Allinger said.