The U.S. Department of Transportation Wednesday announced a plan to address the impact of the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) public health emergency on air carriers participating in the Essential Air Service (EAS) program.
The Department issued a Notice to all EAS air carriers indicating how those carriers may adjust their schedules and seek compensation due to the significant reduction in passenger demand and the financial impact on air carriers.
Western Nebraska Regional Airport Manager Raul Aguallo told KNEB News he is hopeful the announcement will help SkyWest Airlines, who operates flights between Scottsbluff and Denver, weather the current low passenger loads resulting from the pandemic.
Aguallo said SkyWest needs to survive this, because if they don’t airline service will be in peril for small airports like ours. He said other airports, like ours, are working on giving the airline a break on rent and things like that for the next 3 months. Aguallo also said SkyWest is the only carrier serving small hub airports like ours in the country that’s big enough and has the backing of a major airline like United to even exist in this market.
Aguallo added that SkyWest had just posted a new schedule for May, which still shows two flights daily, but said that could easily change now given the DOT’s announcement on Wednesday.
The Department’s plan, which authorizes payment of 50 percent of the contracted per-flight subsidy for flights that are not operated, so long as the completes at least one round trip flight a day for that EAS community, and an EAS air carrier serving a community in Alaska completes at least 50 percent of its weekly schedule for that EAS community.
In addition, the Department will not initiate enforcement action against EAS air carriers for failing to comply with the statutory level-of-service requirements in situations where the noncompliance takes place during the effective period of the notice, the significant reduction in passenger demand due to the COVID-19 public health emergency was the cause of the noncompliance, the EAS air carrier complies with the level-of-service requirements provided in the Notice, and the eligible communities do not object to the change in service levels.
The plan applies to all 160 communities in the United States and Puerto Rico that receive EAS subsidized service, but it does not apply to the 8 communities receiving Alternate EAS grants.
This action is retroactive to March 1, 2020, and will be in effect through June 30, 2020.