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Hays, Great Bend airports to replace lost commercial air service

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Monday, April 21, 2014, at 6:41 p.m.

Hays Regional Airport and Great Bend Municipal Airport are replacing Essential Air Service, lost when Great Lakes Airlines halted the service in late March.

The two airports have been without commercial air service since that time.

Beginning in early June, SeaPort Airlines, based in Portland, Ore., will begin daily round-trip service between Great Bend and Wichita and Great Bend and Kansas City, said SeaPort executive vice president Tim Sieber.

It will operate 18 round-trip flights a week.

The contract is for two years.

Previously, Great Lakes offered service from Great Bend to Denver, with a stop in Hays.

The new service to Wichita and Kansas City will be good, said Martin Miller, Great Bend Municipal Airport manager. “It will open up different travel routes especially to the eastbound traveler.”

When Great Lakes stopped service, “we saw an opportunity there in Kansas,” Sieber said. “Denver is a large airport with many connections. We think Wichita offers an easy connection relative to Denver.”

For one, Wichita Mid-Continent Airport’s costs to the airline are lower than Denver’s, Sieber said.

“That can be given back to the customer,” he said.

In addition, “you don’t have the long taxi times,” Sieber said.

The flights will be operated using nine-passenger Cessna Caravans.

On Aug. 1, United Express, operated by SkyWest Airlines, will begin round-trip service between the Hays Regional Airport and Denver, the airline announced Monday.

United Express will offer 12 weekly flights from Hays to Denver on Bombardier’s 50-seat CRJ200 turbojets, it said.

“Having access to reliable, local air service is critical for the economic development of communities and we look forward to the start of these new United Express flights in Hays,” Mike Thompson, SkyWest Airlines vice president of market development, said in a statement.

SkyWest looks at new markets and new communities that make sense with its network, said spokesman Wes Horrocks.

Because it will operate as a United Express flight, passengers can book flights from United Airlines’ website and earn United frequent flyer miles, Horrocks said. Bags will also be transferred between connecting flights from Denver to their final destination.

Great Lakes Airlines, meanwhile, has been pulling back service in several communities saying a pilot shortage caused when Congress increased pilot requirements has impacted the airline.

In July, the Federal Aviation Administration announced that it is changing the rules for first officers, or co-pilots, requiring them to hold an Airline Transport Pilot certificate, which requires 1,500 hours of total flight time.

Previously, co-pilots were required to have a commercial pilot certificate, which requires 250 hours of total flight time.

It also now requires them to have an aircraft type rating that requires more training and testing specific to the airplanes they fly.

Great Lakes has been canceling service on an extensive scale for the past couple of months, Martin said.

In January, Great Lakes announced it was ceasing service on some of its routes in North Dakota, Iowa and Michigan because of the rule changes.

“Due to the unintended consequences of the new congressionally mandated pilot regulatory requirements, the company feels it is in the best interest of our customers, communities and employees to suspend service from these stations until we are able to rebuild our staff of pilots in order to provide reliable service,” Charles Howell, Great Lakes CEO, said in a statement. “We deeply regret and apologize for this inconvenience.”

Reach Molly McMillin at 316-269-6708 or mmcmillin@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @mmcmillin.

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