Great Bend could be seeing different flight service if details are worked out.
This week the Great Bend City Council approved setting SeaPort as its air service provider under the Essential Air Service program.
The city’s current provider, Great Lakes, would be the secondary choice, in case the SeaPort arrangement doesn’t go through, it was added.
Airport Manager Martin Miller explained that the Department of Transportation forwarded offers from five carriers for the community.
It was noted that every two years, the DoT seeks proposals for EAS routes.
Generally, Great Bend, Dodge City, Garden City, Hays and Liberal have stuck with the same provider.
Miller said that’s not likely this time. “This is likely to split the five communities, unlike I’ve seen them split since I’ve been here,” he suggested.
If Great Bend is able to reach an agreement with SeaPort, however, it would be more flights and improved service.
It would also include a connection through Dodge City that could start to provide flights to both Denver and Kansas City, which is something the community has sought.
SeaPort has an impressive reliability rate, in part due to its planes, which are able to fly above weather, it was noted.
Salina has already made the change and, according to Salina Airport Executive Director Tim Rogers, who spoke to the council this week, it’s been a good match. Rogers said the company has made 97 percent of flights in its first year and it has brought affordable rates, too.
With the high level of customer service, Rogers added, the community has seen an impressive increase in the use of local flights. “Ultimately, it’s the customer service that’s bringing people back.”
One of the challenges that faces every rural community, of course, is whether the EAS program will even be funded or not.
It was suggested that communities like Great Bend, which are more than 90 miles from a major air hub, have a lot better chance to keep service longer — at least over the next few years.
If the SeaPort proposal is not successful across the state, then Great Bend would retain its current provision through Great Lakes, it was noted.