Purchase photos

Great Lakes submits lowest airport bid




The future of Hays Regional Airport is clearer after two airlines emerged to compete for its carrier contract that starts in May.

Great Lakes Airlines, the airport's current provider, edged out SkyWest Airlines for the lowest bid. The U.S. Department of Transportation considers the candidates and awards the contract as part of its Essential Air Service program.

Great Lakes' first plan, which requested a $1,699,520 subsidy from the DOT, would have three daily round trips to Denver on a 19-passenger plane.

Its second bid was for $1,499,508 and featured two daily round-trip flights to Denver on a 30-passenger aircraft.

SkyWest's bid was $2,253,132, and it would offer 12 weekly round-trip flights to Denver on a 50-passenger jet.

Bill Mosley, public affairs specialist with DOT, said DOT evaluates a carrier's subsidy needs, service reliability, contract with a larger carrier, connection to national routes, marketing plan and the community's views.

Toby Dougherty, Hays city manager, said there is more to Great Lakes' low bids than meets the eye. The company gave the airport a discounted rate by raising its projected costs at Great Bend Municipal Airport.

"The bids are significantly lower than past bids for the Hays service," he said. "I view this as an outright attempt to cut their costs to try to retain us."

It would be a "dramatic improvement" if SkyWest was chosen as the new carrier, Dougherty said.

Great Lakes' petition to remain the airport's carrier comes after it had a 43-percent on-time rate for November. The rate was 52 percent in October.

"The last two months, they aren't even batting 50 percent on their on-time percentage, and they're canceling passengers' flights," he said. "We feel only having two flights a day would just cause chaos in the system."

Scrutiny about the quality of the airport's airline is timely as 2013 concludes.

The airport's boarding numbers are down 600 compared to last year, and it is on track to reach only 8,700 departing passengers by the end of 2013. Failing to hit the 10,000 benchmark means the airport is not eligible to receive $1 million from the federal government.

The extra funds are important because they can help pay for FAA-approved projects at the airport. The reward from prior years will go to tentative plans to expand the terminal's security area.

The DOT might finalize the carrier contract in February.