About three years ago, in 2016, Pierre’s City Commission unanimously picked Aero Dynamics Inc. as their choice to provide federally subsidized scheduled passenger air service at our regional airport for two years.
For a while, it went pretty well. But a couple of months ago, things started to go awry. The Capital Journal has detailed what’s happened at length in its news pages over the last couple of weeks.
Last year, ADI was purchased by and began operating as California Pacific Airlines. The company was awarded a second two-year Essential Air Service contract to serve both Pierre and Watertown. In the final three months of 2018, though, CPAir started going belly up. Bills have gone unpaid to the tunes of tens of thousands of dollars. Last week, the company couldn’t even buy fuel for one of its jets. And now service to Pierre has been ended completely.
Sadly, the writing for this situation was on the wall during the first round of EAS bidding started back in 2014. At the time ADI, a successful charter flight company, had been purchased by a group of investors led by a guy named Scott Beale. He was in the process of being sued for bilking some former business partners out of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Beale had a great plan, his company would secure several EAS routes that would provide a substantial profit to his investors and stable, reliable service to the communities it served. In the end, though, ADI only secured one route, the Watertown to Pierre to Denver route. And only after Beale was forced out of ADI.
The Federal Aviation Administration, who oversees the EAS program, actually refused to certify ADI to fly scheduled, subsidized routes as long as Beale was the company’s CEO. Still, Pierre’s leaders seemed determined to get jet service to Pierre whether or not the company providing it was likely to be reliable or could forge interline service agreements so passengers could check bags and board follow-on flights without having to go through security twice while traveling.
For what it’s worth, there were multiple bids from companies with reliable track records for providing EAS service to Pierre. One of those companies, Boutique Air, has been growing steadily and is providing scheduled passenger air service to dozens of cities, they just don’t fly jets.
Eventually, Beale was ousted from his leadership position and ADI was certified by the FAA after a second round of bidding for the EAS contract. For a little over two years thereafter things had gone fairly well, ADI wasn’t able to expand as much as they’d said they would but they could at least arrive on time. But when ADI’s plan didn’t pan out, the company was sold and things went to pot.
Hopefully, as our city’s leaders wrestle with which company to pick in the coming round of new EAS bids, they’ll have learned from the earlier misstep and pick the company most likely to provide the thing Pierre most needs, reliable air service over the long term, whether or not that company flies jets.