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2:20 PM Tue, Sept. 25th

• Decision time

PRESCOTT ­ As local officials expected, the choice on commercial air service at the Prescott Airport comes down to two carriers: Great Lakes Airlines and Mesa Airlines.

By Monday's deadline, the two airlines had submitted proposals for the service, which includes Page, Show Low and possibly Kingman.

The competition pits the current carrier ­ Great Lakes ­ against the company that provided the service for years prior to 2005 ­ Mesa.

It now will be up to the U.S. Department of Transportation and the local communities to evaluate the proposals for the federally subsidized Essential Air Service contract.

To get feedback from locals, the Prescott City Council has placed the matter on its May 1 meeting agenda. Officials say the meeting will allow time for comments from the public.

Basically, say local experts, the two proposals are relatively close in cost, but differ in the details.

"From what I can tell, they're pretty even money-wise," said Prescott Airport Manager Rick Severson, who was still evaluating the proposals on Wednesday.

Both airlines offer an option for continuing with Prescott's current service that includes three flights per day to Phoenix. Likewise, both airlines offer an alternate option that includes two daily flights to Phoenix and one daily flight to Las Vegas.

While Mesa offered a lesser dollar figure for one of the options, Great Lakes' proposal was lower in another of the options, Severson said.

Mesa proposes a $1,798,489 total subsidy for the option that includes two Phoenix and one Las Vegas flight per day, plus similar flights to Kingman. For basically the same service, Great Lakes proposes a total subsidy cost of $1,777,711.

For the service that involves three flights to Phoenix (including a Kingman component), Great Lakes proposes a total subsidy of $1,882,759, while Mesa proposes $1,874,844.

City Manager Steve Norwood and Severson maintain that the choice likely would come down to the details of the services.

"Mesa has demonstrated success in the past," Norwood said, "and Mesa flies directly into Terminal 4 (at Phoenix's Sky Harbor Airport)."

Indeed, city officials long have attributed the decline in passenger numbers during Great Lakes' past two years of service to the terminal issue. While Mesa flies into Terminal 4, with access to U.S. Airways (formerly America West), Great Lakes flies into Terminal 2, with access to United Airlines.

Mesa emphasized that point in its proposal. "As the only commuter carrier to operate out of Terminal 4," the proposal states, "Mesa offers a unique ability for customers to connect to 80 percent of the flights in Phoenix without having to re-clear security or sit on a bus for extended periods to connect between terminals."

Severson ­ although he declined to comment on his preference ­ also brought up the terminal issue. "Mesa's got the gate assignments already," he said of the flights into Phoenix and Las Vegas. "If you look at the money being even, you have to look at the service levels."

Public sentiment also appears to lean toward a return to Terminal 4. By Wednesday afternoon, the U.S. DOT's Web site had posted dozens of comments from local residents and organizations, and most mentioned the importance of having access to Terminal 4.

The new EAS contract period begins on July 1.

Contact the reporter at cbarks@prescottaz.com