When the Federal Aviation Administration changed the qualification requirements for co-pilots in 2013, many in the industry predicted the effect would be greatest on small, regional carriers.
Unfortunately for the city of Hays, the prediction came true. Great Lakes Airlines, which has been servicing the Hays Regional Airport since 1998, almost immediately began experiencing pilot shortages.
We have no idea what the company did to address the problem, as Great Lakes is not known for its transparency. What we do know is the abysmal service, frequent cancellations and even-more-frequent flight delays that resulted on the local runways. In February alone, canceled and delayed flights at Hays Regional were 61 percent.
The overall and progressively worse unreliability led the city, with financial support from the community if needed, to lobby the U.S. Department of Transportation for a new carrier. Because of our reliance on federal subsidies through the Essential Air Service program, DOT has final say on which airlines service which airports.
Despite a bid that was about $750,000 higher than Great Lakes' proposal, DOT selected SkyWest Airlines just over a week ago. Last week, Great Lakes announced it wouldn't fulfill its contract through May 1 and will cease operations in Hays at the end of the month.
Goodbye -- and good riddance.
Having no service until late summer when SkyWest takes over is a temporary situation. Great Lakes was running off so many passengers, Hays was on track to having no service permanently.
SkyWest, which will operate as United Express here, will offer 12 non-stop roundtrips weekly to Denver on 50-passenger jets. The new 6,500-foot runway opened last year allows the heavier aircraft, and hopefully opens the door for dramatic increases in passenger counts.
"We feel that Sky West's superior equipment and reliable service will not only lure back those passengers we lost due to Great Lake's recent operational issues," said Hays City Manager Toby Dougherty, "but will help us attract passengers that might not have considered using the Hays Regional Airport in the past."
We believe Dougherty is being realistic, not merely optimistic. After the Great Lakes experience, there is nowhere to go but up.
We look forward to SkyWest's arrival and the ability to recommend "Fly Hays" with a straight face.
Editorial by Patrick Lowry