SCOTTSBLUFF — The Western Nebraska Airport Board now has a list of finalists to be considered as the carrier out of Scottsbluff.
Six bids were placed for the rights to service Scottsbluff. They are Boutique Air, Skywest, Great Lakes Aviation, Key Lime, Silver Airways and ADI. The bids ranged between 2.7 and 4.7 million with several contingencies and planes. Silver Airways wanted all five cities PenAir had serviced out of Denver or none at all. Each airline also had different amounts of trips per day as well as different sized planes.
“It will be interesting to see how the bids play out and whether carriers want one airport or several,” Airport Manager Darwin Skelton said.
Six airlines have bid to be the new air service out of Western Nebraska Regional Airport.
The bids were sought to restore air service to the Scottsbluff airport after the last Essential Air Service provider, PenAir, announced it would be leaving. Before PenAir filed for bankruptcy and announced plans to pull all flights out of Scottsbluff on Sept. 10, the board filed a request with the Department of Transportation to end the contract and seek a new airline to service Scottsbluff. That move put Scottsbluff ahead of the line when PenAir made the decision. As a result, bids for Scottsbluff closed on Sept. 12.
PenAir will be at the airport until the end of the month to man the counter for four hours each day for anyone who doesn’t realize PenAir has left. Skelton said PenAir has already packed up and hauled out a lot of equipment already.
“Once they are completely out of there, we will go in and paint and get everything cleaned back up for the next carrier,” Skelton said.
With the bids in, a final decision will be made by the board on Tuesday, Sept. 19 at a special board meeting. After the board picks an airline, they will send their recommendation back to the DOT. The board will make recommendations, but the DOT ultimately has the final say in which airline will serve Scottsbluff.
“We know the government likes low bids and that’s generally the way it goes,” he said. “If we were able to get enough support and didn’t choose the lowest bidder, we might be able to get them to go the way we’d like them to go.”
Skelton said there is a lot an airline must do to prepare to move in at Scottsbluff. There is a 30-day comment period, which is due on Oct. 12. At the end of October, beginning of November, a new airline should be known for Scottsbluff.
Once the airline is named, the new airline requires at least 90 days to get started. Among the things a new airline needs to prepare for service to the area is the movement of equipment to Scottsbluff, training of employees, getting computer systems installed and running and booking advanced tickets.
“All those things need to take place before they start service,” he said. “Because there are so may cities that are ‘dark,’ we hope it could be moved quicker, but I’m not holding my breath.”
The best case scenario for Scottsbluff is February or March 2018, which is a better timeline than other Nebraska cities Penair served, which are looking at a late 2018 start date.
Another issue the airport faces is, if the TSA does not provide any service for 45 days, the TSA has the right to pull service from the airport. There is then a lengthy process to get the TSA back. Skelton has been proactive in trying to make sure they will have TSA service when the new airline begins service. He spoke to the security director for the state. Some TSA workers have been moved to different states already to keep them trained so when the new service begins, they will be ready.
The airport also takes care of flight diversions. Sometimes, the people on those flights need to deplane. If that happens, the airport tries to keep them in the security area, but there are times when they would need to go through screening again, such as the recent diversion of nine planes at the same time. Skelton was assured if something similar were to happen, the TSA would be made available for screenings.
Swift Air also runs casino charters and TSA will be available. Skelton said, if needed, they could hire Nancy Dishman, ground security coordinator to work the flight under contract with the airport assisting with check-in. Dishman has performed the role before with Great Lakes and PenAir.
“We’re trying to accommodate everything that may come up, but there may still be a few surprises out there,” he said.
Skelton said the airport will work through the next few months as best as they can and hope the new carrier is successful and stable, and that people will want to fly on them. For now, it’s a waiting game to see what will happen.
“New businesses don’t come in buses, they come in airplanes,” said Bob Unzicker, board member. “That’s why it’s important to have an airline here.”