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Council stays with Great Lakes

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

A recommendation from the Airport Advisory Commission to go with SeaPort Airlines for service at McCook's airport was shot down by the City Council.

By 3 to 2, the council voted against the recommendation. Mayor Dennis Berry and Councilman Aaron Kircher voted in favor of SeaPort, while Councilmen Lonnie Anderson, Jerry Calvin and Mike Gonzales voted against it.

The council then voted unanimously to recommend to the U.S. Department of Transportation a proposal from Great Lakes for essential air service at McCook Ben Nelson Regional Airport. Great Lakes is the current airline at McCook.

The DOT administers essential air service subsidies, based on recommendations from communities. McCook's two-year contract for essential air service expires the end of May.

It was a tough decision, admitted Councilman Kircher, with pros and cons for both airlines. Great Lakes has provided spotty service with higher fares, he said, and, while SeaPort has proposed more flights and cheaper fares, it's with smaller planes and security screening at Denver instead of McCook.

Great Lakes currently provides 12 weekly nonstop flights using twin turboprop Beechcraft 1900-D aircraft from McCook to Denver International Airport. SeaPort has proposed 18 weekly flights using PC-12 pressurized single-engine turboprop aircraft that seats nine.

Mayor Berry said the council needed to look at enplanements when deciding on an airline service. Passenger counts at McCook's airport averages between three and five passengers per day. If the passenger counts do not increase, he said, McCook may not be able to stay with subsidized air service due to the higher price per passenger.

Councilman Calvin told the council that he's heard more on this issue from citizens than any other issue to date. Citizens told him that they were concerned about using a smaller plane and would prefer to go through security at McCook's airport.

With SeaPort's smaller aircraft, TSA screening is not required at McCook's airport. Passengers would go through security screening at Denver International Airport.

The five TSA jobs lost in McCook with SeaPort would be offset by two pilots and co-pilots housed in McCook, noted Councilman Gonzales.

The fare difference between the two airline proposals would be a wash as well, he added, with SeaPort charging extra for luggage over 35 pounds.

Advance sale, one-way tickets with Great Lakes are $109, compared to SeaPort's $79.

Councilman Anderson expressed his concern about SeaPort not landing in the main terminal at Denver's airport but in the corporate jet area. Sea Port would provide a shuttle bus to the main terminal.

On April 16, the Airport Advisory Commission voted by 4 to 3 to recommend SeaPort.

Doug Vap, Commission chairman, told the council Monday night that the vote to go with SeaPort was not "a one-sided decision." There are problems with Great Lakes service, Vap said, but that the board also has to consider McCook's passengers and convenience.

The main concern he heard from citizens was that Seaport did not deplane at the main Denver terminal and that going through security at DIA would make it harder to make connecting flights.

Richard Stull addressed the council to say that the commission's main goal was to go with the company that gave McCook the best opportunity to increase passenger counts.

It is not economically feasible to use 19-passenger seat planes to fill a few seats, he said. Stull contended that boarding numbers have to go up or McCook will never get a competitive bid for a larger plane.

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-- Posted by dennis on Tue, Apr 20, 2010, at 2:40 PM

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