A Denver Air Connection plane at rest at Pierre Regional Airport on Oct. 13.

SkyWest Airlines announced its operations at Pierre Regional Airport will end as of Jan. 4, according to Pierre City Commissioner Jamie Huizenga’s statement during Tuesday’s commission meeting.

“SkyWest is currently working through this change in operations while living up to their commitment to keep United Airlines network service in the market through the bulk of the pheasant season until year end,” Huizenga said in the statement. “They will reduce to one flight daily effective Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021. The flights will be retimed to optimize connections onto United Airlines.”

The U.S. Department of Transportation ruled on Oct. 7 against petitions by the cities of Pierre and Watertown and SkyWest Airlines to vacate and rebid the USDOT’s April 13 order contracting Denver Air Connection to provide Essential Air Service to the two cities.

In an Oct. 7 statement, SkyWest said the company was “disappointed” by the USDOT decision not to rebid the Pierre-Watertown EAS contract but appreciates the support it has received in South Dakota, including from Gov. Kristi Noem and Sens. Mike Rounds and John Thune.

“We are grateful that both Denver Air Connection and SkyWest Airlines have continued to serve Pierre during this time while awaiting DOT decision,” Huizenga said in the statement. “Since the initial award to Denver Air Connection, we have had the opportunity to observe their level of service and reliability, which has been good. They have shown a commitment to quality which we are sure will continue.”

In a Wednesday press release, Denver Air Connection Director of Business Development Jon Coleman thanked the airline’s ground staff for “tireless” work at Pierre and Watertown.

“It was unprecedented in the EAS system that an incumbent would continue flying in a market after losing the EAS contract to another airline, after the new airline began service,” Coleman said. “Despite a very public headwind, Denver Air Connection began service on July 1 and has made good on the promises made. Since July Pierre and Watertown have been able to see our operation up close and personal. We are grateful for the recent statements made by public officials affirming the quality of our service.”

SkyWest provided the Capital Journal with a statement on Wednesday about their decision to suspend operations at Pierre Regional.

“United Express flights, operated by SkyWest, will end at Pierre Regional Airport on Jan. 3, 2022,” the statement read. “While we are disappointed in the DOT’s recent decision, we appreciate the support we have seen from community and state leaders, along with all of our customers. Customers who may have booked a flight beyond Jan. 3 will be contacted to make alternate arrangements. SkyWest employees at Pierre will be given other opportunities, including the option to transfer within the company.”

Airport Manager Cameron Howard said he isn’t expecting any problems with the volume of passengers able to travel to and from Pierre Regional with the loss of SkyWest.

“SkyWest is going to be here at least through the hunting rush and the holiday rush, so I think we’ll be okay on that, and then historically we’ve been okay with one airline,” Howard said. “So I think we’ll be okay, capacity-wise.”

Huizenga told the Capital Journal he “wouldn’t say it was a complete surprise” that SkyWest ultimately decided to pull out of the Pierre market.

“Once DOT ruled that they were not going to do a rebid, we anticipated at some point SkyWest would probably pull away from the market,” Huizenga said. “I know they’re experiencing the same pilot shortage, labor shortage that all businesses are. And without the subsidy, this is probably not a profitable route for them to run this without any subsidy.”

Huizenga said he “absolutely” has confidence in Denver Air Connection to be the main commercial airline at Pierre Regional.

“They’ve got the capacity and they’ve really shown their ability to be here on time, they’re reliable, they’re a great airline,” Huizenga said.

Michael Woodel | 605-224-7301 ext. 131

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