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Great Bend has one last shot at regional air service
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 In other business Monday night, the Great Bend City Council:

• Approved the purchase of two overhead projectors for the Great Bend Events Center from Parr Sound and Lighting at a cost of $6,755. That includes a $1,500 discount provided by Parr. The Great Bend company will also do the installation. 

At the Feb. 1 meeting, the council approved the purchase of a sound system for the center, also from Parr Lighting. The total costs was $20,342 but Parr donated $5,000 of the cost making the final cost $15,342.

• Approved a no-parking resolution at the request of Great Bend Fire Chief Mike Napolitano requests near the emergency entrance to Great Bend

Regional Hospital so that ambulances are able turn out of the parking lot if another vehicle is present. This zone is on the north side of Sixth Street east of Cleveland Street.

• Approved abatements at: 302 Hubbard St., owned by Oscar J. and Susana Urbina, for accumulation of refuse; and 521 Odell St., owned by Glenda I. Short, for accumulation of refuse.

• Approved contributing $1,000 for the ninth-annual Job Fest. The city has contributed to the fest for several years.

The event is set for Thursday, April 21, at the Great Bend Events Center. This regional job fair is targeted for businesses

and employees in Central Kansas, and is presented by representatives from many organizations within the region,including the Great Bend Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development, Barton Community College, KansasWorks and several employers. It focuses on companies and communities located in and around Barton, Russell, Pawnee, Stafford, Rice, Rush and Ellsworth counties.

“Our goal for the 2016 event is to expand our reach in the outlying communities surrounding Barton County,” said Judy Jacobs, event co-chair. “We have had numerous companies from the surrounding areas in past events, but have not had the financial resources necessary to advertise to the workforce from those areas.”

Jacobs said organizers want to partner with the city to bring in more employers and more job seekers.

“The benefits of this event are vast, both to employers and to job seekers alike,” Jacobs said. Job seekers can visit with employers face-to-face, receive assistance with creating a resume, learn valuable interviewing skills, apply for jobs onsite through the KansasWorks mobile unit, and connect with training providers in the area.

From the employer perspective, businesses can network with approximately 200 job seekers who attend the event, take advantage of lower booth space fees than most job fairs, and network with employment agencies for assistance after the event.

In addition, she said they plan to work with students from Barton Community College to offer a “career closet” with donated clothing for job seekers to use in interviews.

 Great Bend has only one more chance at retaining regional air service at Great Bend Municipal Airport, and that is a hail Mary, Airport Manager Martin Miller said. 

Miller updated the City Council Monday night on the effort to resume such flights after the most recent provider, Portland, Ore.-based Seaport Airlines, pulled out in January. The flights to the airport fell under the federal Essential Air Service program.

Now, Great Bend must convince the United States Department of Transportation that it is eligible for EAS, Miller said.

According to the DOT, the Airline Deregulation Act, passed in 1978, gave airlines almost total freedom to determine which markets to serve domestically and what fares to charge for that service. The EAS program was put into place to guarantee that small communities that were served by certificated air carriers.

This is done by subsidizing round trips to a major hub airport. However, Miller said a 2012 change limited the amount of subsidies the feds would pay for air service to EAS communities to $1,000 per month in a calendar year, a limit being strictly enforced.

At last report, Great Bend was receiving over $1,500.

However, Miller said Seaport had been struggling with its Great Bend operations for some time. The airline, which has since filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, had improperly billed and calculated flights through Great Bend.

So, for three months of the past year, Great Bend was really receiving under $1,000. Miller said the average is still above the limit, but they might be able to show USDOT a record of mismanagement and gain pity.

“This is our last shot,” he said. 

The other numbers are not in Great Bend’s favor. The total number of passengers in and out, and landings has been down significantly in recent years, Miller said.

The council authorized Mayor Mike Allison to submit a letter petitioning the USDOT for a waiver from the limit to keep Great Bend in the EAS program.

Now, they are in a holding pattern, Miller said. Should the agency reject the plea, Great Bend will lose the service and will likely never get it back. 

Effective Jan. 17, Seaport discontinued service to Kansas and Missouri. A surprise announcement to the city from the company said the move was due to the current pilot shortage and the resulting restructuring its route network.

In March 2014, the United States Department of Transportation selected Seaport to provide commercial air service to the Great Bend Municipal Airport. The Essential Air Service contract was for a two-year period and under the deal, Seaport would provide 18 round-trip flights per week. 

The 2014 order came shortly after the previous EAS provider Great Lakes Aviation announced it was terminating its contract one month early, leaving in question if commercial air service in Great Bend would be available.

In January, the airline also discontinued scheduled air service in California and Mexico.

At the Feb. 1 council meeting, Mayor Mike Allison named Great Bend Municipal Airport Manager Martin Miller, Airport Advisory Committee President Brock McPherson, City Councilman Joel Jackson and AAC member and businessman Chris Spray to the ad hoc Air Service Review Committee. Their goal was to review proposals for a new EAS provider.