SkyWest/United has submitted a proposal to continue commercial jet service at Hays Regional Airport for the next three years. City officials have expressed support, and the contract now is pending with the federal Department of Transportation.
SkyWest was the only service provider that submitted a proposal for the Hays airport, and city officials say they have been pleased with its service — and recently increasing passenger numbers.
The proposal calls for a three-year contract, which is a year longer than the usual term.
“I think this is going to be good for the community,” Mayor James Meier said at Thursday’s city commission meeting. “I think it’s nice they’re doing a three-year contract so they have a little bit more stability, I guess. But I think they’ve been a very stable carrier for the past four years.”
The contract amount for the three years of service — funded by the federal Essential Air Service program — would be $3.12 million annually. That’s approximately $400,000 less than the current contract, which expires in late July.
A final passenger count for 2017 has not yet been certified by the federal government, but it appears the City of Hays exceeded 10,000 boardings for the first time since 2012, City Manager Toby Dougherty said Friday morning.
That’s a significant increase over the 8,265 enplanements the airport reported in 2016.
“I’m very confident we reached it, but I haven’t seen the final determination yet,” Dougherty said. “Absolutely boardings are up, and the trend just continues to be up.”
Charter flights originating at Hays Regional Airport also count toward the final boarding numbers.
City officials also confirmed last month Skywest/United in April will begin offering round-trip service to Chicago in addition to the daily flights to Denver. It’s projected boarding numbers could top 15,000 due to the additional flights and an eastbound location area travelers long have been requesting.
“Going east is important,” Dougherty said. “A lot of people don’t like the idea of flying to Denver and then flying east, even if it’s a non-stop flight. They would rather drive to Wichita and make a connection and then fly east — even though the total amount of travel time may be the same.”
Service to Chicago will begin April 9 and the upline flight schedule also will serve Salina Regional Airport. The EAS contract calls only for the 12 weekly flights to Denver, meaning the six weekly Chicago flights are an additional service.
The increased boardings would significant boost the amount of federal funding Hays Regional Airport could receive. Once 10,000 boardings are reached, $1 million in federal grant money is guaranteed, with a 10-percent local match. That number drops to only $150,000 for less than 10,000 enplanements. The funds are used to improve airport infrastructure.
But ultimately, higher boarding numbers are about more than money, Dougherty said, noting that also could help secure the future of commercial jet service in the city.
“We want to continually be over 10,000 boardings, because it shows the airport is viable and productive,” he said. “And we can continue to get good carriers to bid on service at the airport and good provider service at the airport.”