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Published December 05, 2013, 08:10 PM

SkyWest Airlines eyes Devils Lake-Denver route

Northeast North Dakota air travelers might get a direct air route to Denver and points west after all. SkyWest Airlines is courting Devils Lake to provide non-stop jet service to and from Denver.

By: Kevin Bonham, Grand Forks Herald

Northeast North Dakota air travelers might get a direct air route to Denver and points west after all.

SkyWest Airlines is courting Devils Lake to provide non-stop jet service to and from Denver.

If successful in its bid, SkyWest could begin service in April, according to John Nord, Devils Lake Municipal Airport manager.

Flights from the northern Red River Valley to Denver haven’t been gone for long, however.

United Airlines’ last flight between Grand Forks and Denver was this week.

The airline had provided non-stop service between Grand Forks and Denver for 14 months, before announcing last month that it would end the service. Company officials said the service did not meet profit expectations.

Currently, Fargo is the closest option for northeast North Dakota residents to get direct commercial flights to Denver.

Competitors

SkyWest, based in St. George, Utah, submitted an application Thursday with the U.S. Transportation Department’s Essential Air Service Program to serve both Devils Lake and Jamestown, N.D. According to the proposals, SkyWest would provide one non-stop round-trip daily to and from each city. The service would be provided through United Express.

Great Lakes Airlines, based in Cheyenne, Wyo., also submitted its application Thursday. Great Lakes has been serving Devils Lake and Jamestown since 2012.

According to preliminary information submitted to the city of Devils Lake, Great Lakes would use its current equipment, 19-passenger Beech 1900 turboprop airplanes, to provide three shared round-trip flights to Minneapolis, with stops in Devils Lake and Jamestown.

SkyWest would use a 50-passenger CRJ-200 jet to provide one non-stop flight each way daily.

EAS, which began in 1978, is a federal program guaranteeing small cities that were served by major air carriers before airline industry deregulation will continue to have access to the national air transportation system.

The EAS program is financed through a user trust fund that is funded by aircraft registration fees, air flight fuel taxes, air flight property taxes and foreign air carrier taxes.

Popular option

A western route makes some sense for Devils Lake, according to Nord.

“We’ve always been used to going to Minneapolis,” he said. “But when we look at it, more than 50 percent of our travelers are going west.”

Among the popular destinations are Denver, Phoenix and Seattle.

While the Transportation Department ultimately decides which airline will serve the cities through the EAS, communities have an opportunity to lobby for their favorite choice, according to Devils Lake Mayor Dick Johnson.

Devils Lake’s airport authority will meet Monday to consider the proposals and, ultimately, to make a recommendation.

“We’re excited about the possibility of getting jet service to the city,” Johnson said. “If we can live with one flight a day, that’s probably the direction we’ll go.”

The Devils Lake City Commission this fall invited other airlines to bid for service, after airline boardings in Devils Lake dropped by more than half between 2011 and 2013.

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