It's still up in the air as to which airline will provide service at McCook's airport, once the current essential air service contract runs out.
The two-year EAS contract with Great Lakes Aviation expires May 31. The McCook Airport Advisory Commission met Thursday and heard a presentation from SeaPort Airlines, based out of Portland, Ore., which has submitted a proposal to be the essential airline carrier at McCook Ben Nelson Regional Airport.
The EAS program gives subsidies to airline carriers that provide flight services to small, rural communities that otherwise would not have air service.
Great Lakes is completing a two-year contract to provide 12 weekly nonstop flights using twin turboprop Beechcraft 1900-D aircraft from McCook to Denver International Airport for an annual subsidy of $1,583,277.
SeaPort is one of three proposals submitted. Great Lakes also submitted a proposal. The proposal from Transport Azumah, of Brooklyn, N.Y., is not being considered as its 30-passenger plane would require extra security at the airport and cost the city too much, said Airport Commission Chairman Doug Vap.
No decision was made Thursday. The Airport Commission will meet Friday, April 16, to vote on either SeaPort or Great Lakes as McCook's preferred essential air service provider. That recommendation will go before the McCook City Council April 19. If approved, the recommendation would go to the Department of Transportation for the final decision.
SeaPort has essential airline contracts with eight communities: two in Alaska, four in Arkansas and one each in Pendleton, Ore., and Salina, Kan. Additionally, SeaPort serves Newport and Astoria, Ore. under a combined state and federal grant program.
Representatives of SeaPort said Thursday that it would offer three flights daily to Denver, six days a week. Fares would be $119 walk-up, with advance purchase tickets at $79 one-way.
Fares with Great Lakes are $209 walk-up, with advance purchase tickets at $109. Two round trips daily are offered Monday-Friday, with one flight on Saturday and Sunday. A Beechcraft 19-passenger seat plane is used.
SeaPort would use a PC-12 pressurized single-engine turboprop aircraft that seats nine. This plane, unlike other planes used by many essential airline carriers, is still being manufactured today so parts availability would not be a problem, said Rob McKinney, SeaPort president.
The smaller-sized plane and frequency of flights will enable them to keep fares affordable and build up passenger counts, he said. "Our success is your success, and vice versa," he said.
The plane would be based in McCook and be piloted by two-pilot crew. In addition, SeaPort would not be required to do Transportation Security Administration screenings at the McCook airport, so customers could board and take-off within 20 minutes, McKinney said.
Passengers flying in from McCook would go through security at the Denver airport. With Great Lakes, TSA security is done at the McCook airport.
Airport Commission member Griff Malleck noted that going through security at McCook is simple, compared to the Denver airport. Any time saved at McCook would be lost with security done at the Denver Airport, he said.
City Manager Kurt Fritsch pointed out that many who are driving to Denver to catch connecting flights already know that screening will be done there.
A shuttle would be provided from the commercial terminal to the main DIA terminal, McKinney said.
Fritsch said after the meeting that in other instances where TSA was eliminated, the personnel have been relocated or absorbed by other locations. He added that the removal of TSA from the McCook airport would free up city space and police officer time now being used to accommodate TSA requirements.