SkyWest Airlines likely to remain in Pueblo
After announcing plans to pull daily flights from Pueblo Memorial Airport earlier this year, SkyWest Airlines is likely to keep servicing Pueblo with a new agreement in the works.
The airline announced in March it would have to discontinue Pueblo flights this year because of a pilot shortage, however, “SkyWest has indicated they have reached out to the U.S. Department of Transportation to rescind their notice to terminate service in Pueblo,” said Greg Pedroza, director of aviation at the airport.
The airline, which provides Essential Air Service to Pueblo under a contract with the federal transportation department, “is thinking of creative ways to fulfill their obligation through their current contract with hopes of being able to renew the Essential Air Service contract for the next period,” Pedroza said.
Essential Air Service contracts are generally two years. However, four-year contracts are also common, according to the transportation department.
"One of SkyWest’s key missions has long been to connect small and mid-size markets to the national transportation infrastructure. We appreciate the partnership and support we have seen from community leaders and others in the Pueblo community as we explore various options that will allow us to maintain our air service," a SkyWest spokesperson said.
The Essential Air Service program guarantees small communities like Pueblo access to the national transportation grid by subsidizing carriers that fly from those communities to hub airports. In Pueblo's case, Denver International Airport is the hub.
“We continue to work with our partners with the department of transportation to explore all options for our community. We are currently discussing a mutually beneficial agreement with SkyWest to continue operations in Pueblo with a long-term agreement the ultimate goal,” Pedroza said.
For Puebloans like Dr. Robert Paull, the flights are tremendously important. Paull has been working as a physician in Pueblo for five years and, like many professionals, has lived and worked in multiple cities, so his social network is spread out.
“Keeping in contact with remote friends and colleagues has been trying. I've flown enough this year to have priority status on both United and Southwest, but only flown out of Pueblo once due to limited schedules,” Paull said.
Denver airport parking is increasing to $30 a day for its garage and gas prices have also increased, making the commute to Denver costly.
“There is more motivation than just the time and I-25 headaches saved to look to Pueblo for flight service,” Paull said. “A few years back we had Great Lakes Airlines and I know many folks were bothered by the small planes, but the frequency of service was helpful to make connections.”
Since SkyWest, a subcontractor for United Airlines, took over the connections, Paull said service has been limited to just two flights a day that often land in time slots that don't meet his needs.
SkyWest expected to halt flights to and from Pueblo by June, a spokesperson for the airline said in March. At that time, the Utah-based airline announced plans to discontinue service for 29 small cities that it serves.
But days after the announcement, a federal order barred the airline from terminating flights to the small, regional airports until replacement air carriers were found for the routes.
The deadline for other airlines to submit proposals for the Pueblo flights was May 11. Pedroza said other airlines have expressed interest, but are regional small commuter airlines, not jet service providers.
“We need to evaluate the best fit for our community. We would prefer jet service,” Pedroza said.
Chieftain reporter Tracy Harmon can be reached by email at email@example.com or via Twitter at twitter.com/tracywumps.