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SkyWest likely airline for next three years

Margaret Allen
Hays Daily News
Josh Leedy, left, and Shane Campbell, both employees of Cillessen & Sons Inc., Wichita, pick up traffic control and put down water field barricades on Tuesday to close off part of a taxiway in preparation for concrete work at Hays Regional Airport.

Regional carrier SkyWest will likely continue as the commercial airline serving Hays Regional Airport for the next few years.

SkyWest Airlines' multi-year contract started Aug. 1, 2018, and runs through July. City of Hays staff are recommending the city commission support the Utah-based carrier’s bid to renew its contract for three more years, through Aug. 1, 2024.

SkyWest, doing business as United Express, was the only airline that bid to provide the service.

The contract is administered by the U.S. Department of Transportation through its Essential Air Service Program providing commercial airline service to small communities. Currently the annual subsidy SkyWest receives is $3.1 million. It bid $3.6 million for the new three-year contract.

“In November the DOT solicited proposals for another three-year contract and SkyWest was the only carrier to provide a proposal for that,” city manager Toby Dougherty said during a news briefing Tuesday morning at City Hall, 1507 Main St.

“There are other essential air service carriers out there, and we’re usually pretty competitive, we usually have more than one carrier bid on our services,” Dougherty said. “In this case, SkyWest was the only bidder. We’re happy with that, because it was a competitive bid from the price standpoint, and we’re very happy with the SkyWest service they provide here.”

Cost of the service is borne by the U.S. Department of Transportation, Dougherty said, with no cost to the city. But as part of the selection process, the DOT wants community input on the selection of a carrier.

“So this letter would be the community’s support for the selection of SkyWest,” Dougherty said, noting he saw no reason the city commission would oppose it.

Service would remain the same, in terms of the 12 round-trip flights a week the airline offers now to Denver International Airport in a 50-seat Bombardier CRJ regional jetliner.

“When carriers bid a route, they don’t bid schedules, they bid flights per week,” he said. “We are currently under a contract that authorizes 12 flights a week to and from Denver, and SkyWest proposed a contract that authorizes 12 flights a week to and from Denver.”

The airline determines the days and times for the 12 flights.

Under a new schedule that just went into effect, the SkyWest flight from Denver arrives at 9:35 p.m., stays overnight, then leaves at 8:30 a.m. the next day. A second flight leaves at 4:30 p.m. from Hays. That restores some service lost during the pandemic.

That schedule is every day except Tuesday and Saturday, when there’s just the early morning departure and late night arrival, Dougherty said.

“We foresee that schedule staying in place for some time now, but in the future if SkyWest wants to make modifications, under the new contract, they would have the ability,” he said.

Fares are set by United Airlines, with SkyWest recovering a specified rate per passenger from United and the DOT.

“That’s why the fares change daily and sometimes it’s expensive to go to Las Vegas and sometimes it’s cheap,” Dougherty said. “Sometimes it’s expensive to go to Chicago, and sometimes it’s cheap. That’s all done by United algorithm.”

The city commission holds a work session Thursday evening at City Hall to consider the matter. Dougherty said it is anticipated SkyWest will have the commission’s support.

The airport had nearly 33,000 passengers flying in and out in 2019, a banner year for Hays Regional Airport. The pandemic has reduced passenger numbers, according to the city.

“A continuation of the quality service provided by SkyWest,” city commissioner Sandy Jacobs said in a letter filed with the commission’s Thursday agenda, “will help us quickly recover to pre-pandemic passenger levels.”