Travelers will soon find out how healthy competition at Pierre Regional Airport is after SkyWest Airlines confirmed earlier this week that it plans to continue flying out of Pierre past July 1, when Denver Air Connection is scheduled to take over Pierre and Watertown’s Essential Air Service contract.
KXLG Radio reported Tuesday that SkyWest’s plan to continue flying out of Pierre past July 1 applies to Watertown Regional Airport, as well.
Pierre city commissioner Jamie Huizenga said the prospect of having two airlines sharing a ridership once served by a single airline is more a concern for SkyWest and Denver Air than it is for the city.
“They’re running a business here and they have to be able to get passengers to fly on their airline,” Huizenga said. “So it’s obviously a concern for them but it’s not so much of a concern for us as it is the airlines.”
Indeed, a Friday statement from the City of Pierre indicated the city government is more excited than concerned by the prospect of competition at Pierre Regional.
“The City relies on the airlines, and in the case of an EAS provider, the USDOT to determine financial feasibility of airline operations,” the statement read. “As part of the EAS contracting process, to confirm financial stability, the USDOT does a deep financial review of airlines seeking the contract. It also analyzes their subsidy requests. Airlines are constantly looking at the financial feasibility of their operations. It’s up to them to determine if they can turn a profit with particular routes. We feel very fortunate to have two airlines that see the benefit of flying in and out of Central South Dakota!”
Huizenga added that Pierre Regional’s terminal was built to host up to three airlines at once.
Denver Air head of business development Jon Coleman reiterated his company’s dedication to providing service on-time at Pierre and Watertown when asked if there would be concerns of the airline turning a profit when faced with competition at an airport Pierre Regional’s size.
“Everybody that submitted a legitimate bid requires a subsidy,” Coleman said. “I will say this, the prospect of SkyWest remaining does not affect our obligation or ability or intention to begin service on July 1.”
“SkyWest appreciates the support we have seen from local and state officials and we look forward to a resolution from the DOT,” the St. George, Utah-based carrier said Friday. “Customers can continue booking our SkyWest-operated United flights from Pierre and Watertown as we await a DOT decision.”
USDOT did not provide comment to the Capital Journal’s question about how Pierre Regional hosting two airlines would impact future subsidies.