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City looking at air service bids
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The good news is that the City of Great Bend has received two proposals for air service under the Essential Air Service program. The bad news is that city officials have only until Jan. 13 to make comments to the U.S. Department of Transportation on the competing plans.
With such a hasty deadline, the City Council Monday night authorized Mayor Mike Allison and Great Bend Municipal Airport Manager Martin Miller to form a committee to study the matter. The goal is to have the panel in place by the end of the year and a proposal before the council at its next meeting Jan. 6, 2014.
The committee will be made up of Miller, city administrators and staff members, council members, airport users and other interested individuals. Citizens interested in taking part can contact the city at 620-792-4111.
City Administrator Howard Partington told the council Monday that the USDOT forwarded the two proposals the city. The federal agency administers the program and will make the ultimate decision, but wants local input first.
Cheyenne, Wyo.,-based Great Lakes Aviation is the current EAS provider and is one of the bidders this year. Its plan, which is similar to the current one, calls for 12 round-trip flights per week to Denver via a 19-passenger plane.
The second bidder is Portland, Ore.,-based Sea Port. It offers 18 round-trip flights to Wichita each week via a nine-passenger aircraft. There is also a chance some of the flights could be through Kansas City.
“It’s kind of intriguing,” Partington said. The status quo has worked well, but the possibility of the change in  destinations an interesting one.
Every two years, the USDOT solicits bids for EAS carriers.
According to the Department of Transportation, 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 before deregulation maintain a minimal level of scheduled air service.
The department’s mandate is to provide the EAS communities with access to the national air transportation system.  As a general matter, this is accomplished by subsidizing two to four round trips a day – with three being the norm – to a major hub airport. 
The department currently subsidizes commuter airlines to serve approximately 163 rural communities across the country that otherwise would not receive any scheduled air service.
Up until two years ago, Partington said Great Bend worked with four other western Kansas cities as sort of a rural air network  – Dodge City, Garden City, Hays and Liberal. Garden City has since sort of broken away and sought a different carrier.
The remaining communities have been served by Great Lakes for a number of years. This time around, Hays has another proposal.