Split advisory board favors new carrier

Friday, April 16, 2010

McCOOK, Nebraska -- After a presentation by the current airline serving McCook, the airport advisory commission voted 4-3 Friday to recommend another airline using smaller planes to the McCook City Council.

Meeting Monday, the council is under no obligation to follow the commission's recommendation in indicating its preference to the U.S. Department of Transportation for McCook's Essential Air Service provider.

Meeting at Heritage Senior Center, the McCook Ben Nelson Regional Airport Advisory Commission first heard a presentation by Monica Taylor of Cheyenne, Wyoming, director of sales and marketing for Great Lakes Airlines.

She recounted the birth of the Essential Air Service subsidy during the 1978 deregulation of airline service, and explained how her airline was recently "the last guy standing" after 35 small communities lost air service with the bankruptcy of airlines like Mesa Airlines, Great Lakes' predecessor in McCook.

Great Lakes has closed its St. Louis hub, moving two planes based there to Denver, and plans to be out of the Kansas City market soon, freeing up two more planes for Denver, she said, enabling the airline to improve its service, she said.

An Essential Air Service bid is basically a profit and loss statement, she explained, which in Great Lakes' case will show a $1.7 million loss to serve McCook. If chosen to continue to provide service here, she said, taxpayers will kick in that amount plus 5 percent to help the airline turn a profit.

"It's a huge gamble," Taylor said. "We're only paid if we operate," she added, which in McCook's case should be two flights daily Monday through Friday, and two on the weekends.

Over the last six months, Great Lakes has canceled 44 of 537 flights to McCook for "controllable" reasons like maintenance or crew shortages, as well 38 flights canceled because of bad weather.

Advisory commission member Richard Stull repeatedly urged Great Lakes to find ways to fly more passengers, saying he feared a time when the EAS subsidy will be lost because of the high cost per passenger.

Others, such as travel agent Ann Barger and commission member Doug Skiles urged Taylor to tell her airline it needed to offer lower fares for groups, or lower fares for shorter advanced notice. Fares are about $300 one-way for "walk up passengers" or $100 for 21 days advanced booking.

City manager Kurt Fritsch said he had called seven airports regarding the service provided by SeaPort Airlines, which is also bidding for the McCook route, and received mostly glowing reports.

Pendleton, Oregon, for example, reported that the new airline was very helpful in promoting travel from the local airport, and a Harrison, Arkansas, official said choosing SeaPort "was the best move we've made in 21 years in business." The company was active in the local chamber of commerce and advertised their service heavily, the Arkansas official reported.

Great Lakes, on the other hand, has virtually no advertising budget, according to its representative, and works with local interests through promotions like free tickets.

Despite the criticism, "we are grateful Great Lakes stepped in when Mesa went bankrupt," Fritsch said.

Strikes against SeaPort during Friday's discussion included its use of single-engine, nine passenger planes instead of Great Lakes' 19-passenger twin-engine craft, and the fact that McCook would lose six Transportation Security Administration jobs and $25,000 in TSA rent at the airport terminal building if SeaPort is selected, because TSA screening is not required on airliners its size.

While at least two advisory commission members said they personally favored SeaPort, they were afraid some passengers might be reluctant to fly on a single-engine plane, regardless of the turboprop's history of reliability.

During her presentation, Taylor said airports that had opted for single-engine EAS providers "had trouble getting twin-engines back."

Barger said the SeaPort passengers would need at least 90 minutes between flights after arriving at Denver International Airport, and would have to buy their own tickets on connecting flights and pay penalties if a flight were late.

Stull said he didn't believe Great Lakes had a viable plan for reaching even the number of passengers it budgeted for in its current EAS bid. The six more flights SeaPort plans to offer each week would make up for the smaller planes and add convenience, he said.

The motion by Stull to recommend SeaPort for the McCook route was seconded by Mike Kugler, and passed 4-3 on a secret ballot.

It was noted after the vote that the McCook City Council is free to reject the advisory board's recommendation, as it did when it renamed McCook Municipal Airport in honor of Sen. Ben Nelson.

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  • I read this story in in the paper, and my problem is this. As a retired pilot myself, I have always been told and heard this saying. It's better to have (2 turning than 1 and 1 turnig is better NONE). As far as the 38 flight cancelations you comissioners are conern about.I would rather fly with a company who puts safty first for their passengers and crews. They must believe in the old saying that every pilot knows, and it goes like this. ( THERE ARE NO OLD BOLD PILOTS). When your on final approach or taking off I'll take two engines over one anytime!! And just remember which company it was that came in a bailed out good old McCook. Again!. The lady is right about one thing though. It will be harder next time for McCook too get bailed out. Think it over real good before you jump ship on this.

    -- Posted by stpm43 on Sat, Apr 17, 2010, at 3:05 PM
  • Single engines wouldn't bother me. I'd be happy with service or Omaha or Kansas city at reasonable prices. By the time I'd fly from Chicago midway to Denver got my bags and got to the hour long flight to McCook, Its just as quick and cheaper to drive.

    I only had the opportunity to fly Mesa once. Friday after Christmas. It was a bad travel day for the nation. unexpected blizzard in denver, maintaince issues, midway and o'hare both shut down for part of the day. Delays all across the board. I'd fly them again for the price.

    However, Great lakes is out of the question with the price.

    -- Posted by npwinder on Sat, Apr 17, 2010, at 9:01 PM
  • People before you go with "Tinker Toy" airlines do some research on the bigger perspective. Currently you can book a flight to or from McCook on major travel web sites. Hear is a sample itinerary using San Francisco to McCook on travelocity.com


    Because the current carrier code shares with other airlines and flys out of DIA it is easier but more expensive to go with the current carrier.

    If you go with the single prop planes that fly to who knows where (what airport to they fly into? Front Range, Arapahoe, Jefferson County or DIA freight) one advantage is McCook can start developing land around the airport and tear up part of the runways and save federal dollars for improvements and turn the airport to one similar to Curtis or other smaller communities. Instead of growing and thinking big McCook continues to downsize by watching and bickering about every little penny. It will be interesting to see if McCook falls below the 7000 population mark in the next census. Oh by the way, you have many high school grads flying and driving into McCook in July from around the country. Do you really want to cut off code sharing travel arrangements? How impressive!

    -- Posted by BuffRoam on Sun, Apr 18, 2010, at 3:35 PM
  • Link has expired but you can perform your own search on priceline or travelocity.

    -- Posted by BuffRoam on Sun, Apr 18, 2010, at 6:10 PM
  • Also, try to book a flight to Salina (code SLN) from anywhere in the country. It will not work.

    -- Posted by BuffRoam on Sun, Apr 18, 2010, at 6:16 PM
  • Southwest airlines doesn't code share or show up in any of the major travel sites. Instead you have to either call southwest or go to their website to book a flight. They've seem to have done just fine.

    The questions I ask are how full are the flights from Denver-McCook and McCook to Denver? The beech1900 are nice planes, so is the PC-12.

    What will the ticket prices be? I see I can get from Salina to Kansas City for 69-119 one way.

    Who is going to be more visible in the community and try to get business to come?

    I know when I was on mesa around Christmas from McCook to Omaha, also a beech1900 if i remember right, All 19 seats were full. Will seaport be able to boost traffic to support that?

    Will people be able to goto McCook Airports site and get to a booking site?

    McCook Airport sees Business Jet traffic also along with other General Aviation flights. We don't need to worry about having to redevelop the airport to make it smaller. I'm pretty sure Red Willow Aviation would not like that much.

    -- Posted by npwinder on Sun, Apr 18, 2010, at 10:55 PM
  • Has it been revealed where SeaPort will land in Denver? If your destination is Denver in general then you should be fine. You may be able to hail a taxi and perhaps a rental car but choices will be limited. If you want to connect to another flight then forget this airline. How much and how far is the shuttle to DIA? Denver has weather and traffic concerns wouldn't you rather arrive at the main airport if you are connecting?

    -- Posted by BuffRoam on Mon, Apr 19, 2010, at 11:09 AM
  • As far as I know DIA is the only airport in Denver with reliable passenger service.

    I also doubt that they would be in contention for the contract if they were not flying to DIA.

    I would be surprised if when officially revealed it was any other airport with the exception of Kansas City, and that's only because its a short flight from here to Salina.

    -- Posted by npwinder on Mon, Apr 19, 2010, at 9:37 PM
  • DIA is a TSA secured facility and planes not having passengers screened will not be able to unload passengers into the facility. Currently, passengers are unloaded at the end of a secured concourse. That will not be an option for Sea Port if screening is not done in McCook.

    -- Posted by BuffRoam on Tue, Apr 20, 2010, at 8:55 AM
  • At kansas city they have their own private terminal they load and unload passengers at. Then they can goto the main terminal for connecting flights.

    I did send an email to sea port asking if they could give us more information on how things would work and gave them a link to this article. I'll let you know if they reply to me.

    -- Posted by npwinder on Tue, Apr 20, 2010, at 10:53 AM
  • I know the council has made their decision already, but this is what I got back from seaport. From their Manager in hot springs arkansas.

    Good Morning Mr. Winder,

    Thank you for your interest in Seaport Airlines.

    We have our own Terminals at PDX,MEM, and MCI. If we are fortunate

    enough to be allowed to serve McCook and Denver we will also

    need our own facility in Denver. Our MEM facility is executive

    class and very efficient. We shuttle our passengers to and from

    all the other carriers in the field as well as to other areas

    within normally 2-4 minutes. This is typical of all our private

    terminals. I used the Memphis example because I am proud of that

    facility and more familiar with it.

    If I can be of any service to you please let me know.

    Thank You,


    Jim Besaw

    Station Manager HOT

    SeaPort Airlines


    Office: (501) 318-5269

    Fax: (501) 318-0559

    -- Posted by npwinder on Fri, Apr 23, 2010, at 9:07 AM
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