The airline that provides Essential Air Service to Glasgow and other small cities in Montana has decided to leave the state. Silver Airways notified the U.S. Department of Transportation that it will not bid for another two-year contract and will stop flying scheduled service in Montana on Sept. 27.
Part of the reason for Silver’s departure is the upcoming termination of EAS subsidies to Lewistown and Miles City on July 15, leaving only five cities in the program: Glasgow, Wolf Point, Glendive, Havre and Sidney.
The company’s statement said the airline wants to focus on flying in their more contiguous East Coast, Florida and Bahamas networks.
“With only five cities, it’s hard to make ends meet,” said Larry Mires, who participates on the Montana EAS Task Force. “They did a stellar job.”
Glasgow Mayor Dan Carney agreed.
“I wish they would have bid on it,” he said. “They did a damn good job. I don’t think we’ll have a gap in service, but it’s hard to say.”
Carney said he uses EAS for doctor’s appointments in Billings, leaving Glasgow in the morning and returning the same day.
Glasgow was one of the original subsidized airports when EAS was created after deregulation of the airlines in 1978. The first provider was Big Sky Airlines, which flew for nearly 30 years before ceasing operations in March 2008. The area suffered with no EAS coverage for a year, until Great Lakes Airlines took over early in 2009. The Cheyenne-based airline made Denver the hub of its operations during its two years of EAS operation.
Silver Airways began flying EAS in Montana in February 2011, bringing the hub back to Billings. It has 49 employees in the state. Silver is the name of the Montana operation of Gulfstream Airlines, which flies out of Florida to East Coast cities and the Bahamas, and also has EAS services based in Cleveland, Washington, D.C., and Atlanta.
Congress changed the law on eligibility for EAS in February 2012. To continue to be eligible, a community must have an average subsidy per passenger of less than $1,000. The ridership is too low in Lewistown and Miles City to qualify. In FY 2012, Lewistown had 660 passengers, who were each subsidized at $2,009. The subsidy for Miles City’s 694 passengers was $2,337 each.
Pete Pederson is Glasgow’s member on the Montana EAS Task Force. He said other airlines are interested in bidding. A request for proposals was issued with a deadline of July 15.
The EAS Task Force meets July 25 in Billings to hear the presentations and choose an airline.
“I’m hoping and confident we will get another bidder,” said Bob Lipscomb, a member of the Valley County Airport Board. “EAS is what it says – essential.”