A proposal by Southern Airways Express LLC to provide essential air service flights between Pueblo Memorial Airport and Denver has been approved, with flights scheduled to take off on January 15.
Meanwhile, SkyWest Airlines will continue commuter flights through January 14, so “there will be no service interruption if everyone sticks to the plan,” said Greg Pedroza, Pueblo airport’s director of aviation.
The US Department of Transportation approved Southern Airways’ proposal for essential air services flights on October 26. The federal program guarantees smaller communities access to the national transportation network by subsidizing airlines that fly from smaller communities to hub airports.
More airport news:As SkyWest opts out, Southern Airways applies to fly in and out of Pueblo Memorial Airport
Under the contract, Southern Airways will provide Pueblo with 24 weekly nonstop roundtrip flights to Denver using a nine-seat Beechcraft King Air 200 aircraft. In exchange for the airline’s willingness to serve the market, the federal government will pay an annual subsidy of $2.9 million in 2023 and $3.06 million in 2024, according to the department’s order.
The contract runs through January 31, 2025, at which time both parties can consider a renewal.
The proposal received support from both Pueblo Mayor Nick Gradisar and Pueblo Aviation Department Chairman Walter Ross.
“As you know, we have only received one service proposal at Pueblo Memorial Airport,” Ross wrote in the letter of support. “This community has expressed a desire to have jet service rather than single-engine propeller aircraft.”
Although Southern Airways plans to use a twin-engine turboprop aircraft, the “proposal appears to be a suitable replacement; the committee recommends accepting it,” Ross wrote in the letter.
Pedroza said that although Southern Airways will use a plane with a smaller passenger load, there is a “better opportunity because there are more flights per day.”
Mark Cestari, Southern Airways’ chief commercial officer, said the airline hopes to serve Pueblo and hire some local workers.
“Southern Airways is excited and delighted to have been selected to be the next airline to serve Pueblo air service,” said Cestari. “We believe that our frequent, reliable, and low-cost flights from the Pueblo airport to Denver will be a great asset to the community.”
Southern has an interline agreement with United Airlines, which provides seamless connectivity to the hundreds of daily flights from Denver to all destinations.
“We are always looking for new and talented employees to join our team. You can apply to join our PUB Airport team,” Cestari said online.
Puebloans can book all flights or apply for jobs at iflysouthern.com.
Why SkyWest opted out of Pueblo flights
The change of airlines came after SkyWest Airline announced plans in March to cancel daily flights from Pueblo and 28 other small communities this year due to a shortage of pilots. SkyWest officials then considered renewing the flights, but the airline’s proposed approach met with opposition from the Air Line Pilots Association International.
Association leaders filed a 15-page opposition letter arguing: “SkyWest, Inc. must not be allowed to degrade the margin of safety of our air transportation system through the use of its new company alter ego, SkyWest Charter, LLC. , to change its current essential air service for small communities that fly from itself to its substitute”.
The opposition letter stated that SkyWest wanted permission “to operate high performance jet aircraft under public charter rules with less experienced and less qualified first officers on the flight deck. Their proposal is a subterfuge to avoid the safety-critical First Officer Qualification rules that Congress authorized in the FAA and Aviation Safety Extension Act of 2010,” according to the opposition letter.
A celebration will likely take place at the airport in late January to welcome Southern Airways to Pueblo, Pedroza said.
“It sounds like they are going to be a good partner,” he said.
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Chief reporter Tracy Harmon covers business news. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter at twitter.com/tracywumps.
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