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Published January 06, 2014, 01:15 PM

Devils Lake officials look forward to jet service to Denver

The Devils Lake region is looking to book SkyWest Airlines, with daily round-trip jet service to Denver, as its sole provider of commercial passenger airline service under the federal Essential Air Service program.

By: Kevin Bonham, Grand Forks Herald

The Devils Lake region is looking to book SkyWest Airlines, with daily round-trip jet service to Denver, as its sole provider of commercial passenger airline service under the federal Essential Air Service program.

The city of Devils Lake, Ramsey County and the Devils Lake Regional Airport Authority will send letters Monday to the U.S. Department of Transportation recommending the transition from Great Lakes Airlines to SkyWest, starting April 1, according to John Nord, airport manager.

Great Lakes has been the city’s only commercial passenger air carrier for the past two years. Its current contract expires March 31 and Monday is the deadline for communities to make recommendations.

SkyWest, based in St. George, Utah, flies 50-passenger CRJ200 jets.

Great Lakes, based in Cheyenne, Wyo., has provided service to Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport via 19-passenger turbo-prop airplanes.

“We’re excited about the possibility of getting jet service,” Mayor Dick Johnson said.

Devils Lake recently completed an $8 million project that lengthened its runway from 5,400 to 6,400 feet and added other improvements such as new navigational aids to accommodate jets, according to Nord.

“We’re ready for jet service,” he said, “and what we’re finding out is that the majority of our travelers are going west, so Denver makes a more direct route.”

The Federal Aviation Administration provided 90 percent of the runway project funding. The state of North Dakota and local governments split the remaining 10 percent, according to Nord.

Decision soon

The federal agency could make a decision later this month on which airline will get the next two-year contract, according to Nord.

Devils Lake officials have favored the SkyWest bid since it initially was offered. They have expressed concerns in recent months over service provided by Great Lakes, citing numerous flight cancellations.

In November, for example, the airline canceled 35 of its approximately 90 scheduled flights between Devils Lake and Minneapolis-St. Paul.

The airline has blamed the cancellations on a lack of pilots after new FAA regulations that took effect in August that increased the number of flight hours required from 250 to 1,500 before first officers — also commonly called co-pilots — can work for commercial airlines. Co-pilots also now have to pass the Air Transport Pilot exam.

Ticket cost

Nord said SkyWest has not provided details on the cost of one-way or round-trips between Devils Lake and Denver.

“SkyWest said it will be competitive with other airports in the area,” he said.

A Google search of non-stop flights between Bismarck and Denver show round-trip prices ranging from about $200 to $400.

Great Lakes’ round-trip fares to and from Minneapolis range from about $175 to $210 with about 60 days of notice, to about $400 for same week service, according to a price check on its website.

“What we’re basing our decision on is that SkyWest is a very dependable carrier.”

Great Lakes and SkyWest also are competing for an EAS contract to serve Jamestown.

Like Devils Lake, the SkyWest bid would be for one round-trip daily between Jamestown and Denver on a 50-passenger CRJ200 jet.

Jamestown-area officials also have indicated they will recommend SkyWest over Great Lakes, according to Forum News Service.

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