Don't judge air service by current plight

Thursday, January 24, 2008

We knew the $50 one-way tickets to Omaha were too good to last, but the US Airways Express announcement that they would be tripled came as a shock.

Unfortunately, the bad news didn't end there.

Now, parent company Mesa Airlines has filed notice that even with Essential Air Service subsidies -- which amount to $2.29 million a year in McCook -- it can no longer afford to provide air service to McCook, Grand Island, three cities in Missouri, three in Arkansas and two in Kansas.

Cities have 20 days to object -- we're sure they will -- and if no other airline steps forward, Mesa will be forced to continue service until its contract ends at the end of October.

The only other airline providing service in the Midwest is Great Lakes, which formerly served McCook and still connects North Platte with Denver.

While both airlines are hobbled by skyrocketing fuel prices, Mesa has special troubles of its own, not related to the price of oil, and had already announced plans to sell Air Midwest, the subsidiary that operates US Airways.

The troubles began when Mesa started a low-cost airline called go! in Hawaii, and ran afoul of non-compete and confidentiality agreements with Hawaiian Airlines.

Although it is appealing the $80 million judgment, much of Mesa's money is tied up in a $90 million surety bond required by the judge in the case.

Unfortunately, long-term profits are about as rare as Bigfoot sightings in the airline industry, especially in the regional segment. That's what has made the Essential Air Service subsidy necessary, and why it is likely to be a struggle to provide service to small towns for a long time.

But prospects for airline service to McCook shouldn't be measured by the special circumstances that surround the current situation.

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