Originally Published: March 19, 2013 10 p.m.
PRESCOTT - Great Lakes Aviation, the airline that has provided commercial service at the Prescott Airport since about 2005, appears to be the city's preference for the coming two years as well.
Although no vote occurred at the Prescott City Council's caucus discussion on Tuesday, several council members voiced support for the proposal that Great Lakes submitted for Prescott's Essential Air Service (EAS) subsidy contract.
Under the proposal, Great Lakes' service in Prescott would continue basically has it has for the past several years - with nonstop flights from Prescott to Los Angeles International Airport; and one-stop flights to Denver International Airport.
The airline would provide a minimum of 18 flights per week in its 19-seat Beech 1900D aircraft.
Along with Great Lakes, the 2013 request for proposals also attracted two other airlines - Oregon-based SeaPort Airlines and North Dakota-based Sovereign Air - both of which propose providing flights between Prescott and Phoenix's Sky Harbor International Airport.
SeaPort offered two options -one that would provide a minimum of 30 flights per week and would originate in Kingman with a stop in Prescott; and one that would offer a minimum of 26 flights per week and would fly between Prescott and Phoenix. SeaPort would use nine-seat Cessna Caravan airplanes.
Sovereign offered a minimum of 19 flights per week between Prescott and Sky Harbor. Its flights would be on 19-seat Jetstream airplanes.
Prescott Airport Manager Jeff Tripp told the council on Tuesday that the Prescott-to-Phoenix flights likely would arrive at Sky Harbor's Terminal 2, where passengers would then have to go through security again to get to flights at other terminals.
City officials appeared to agree that Great Lakes' flights to Denver and Los Angeles would be more helpful to the community than the Prescott-to-Phoenix flights.
Councilman Chris Kuknyo maintained that the van shuttles that travel between Prescott and Sky Harbor already provide service that rivals air travel. "(Shuttles are) less expensive and almost faster," he said.
Mayor Marlin Kuykendall also questioned the value of flights between Prescott and Phoenix. "It's been years since that was a good route," he said.
While Great Lakes' current contract involves a federal subsidy of about $1.8 million per year, the company increased its requested amount this year to about $2.1 million per year.
The Essential Air Service program aims to ensure that rural communities retain their commercial airline service.
Councilman Jim Lamerson - while stressing that he does not like the subsidy program - asked Tripp whether a discontinuation of the program would compromise the Prescott Airport in other ways.
Tripp responded, "If we were no longer an air-carrier airport, we would actually lose some of our clout when it comes to (FAA funding)."
Over the past several years, Great Lakes' passenger counts have shown decreases - from 7,836 in 2010 to 4,952 in 2012. Tripp said the city's goal is 10,000 enplanements (people getting on the flight in Prescott).
Although the U.S. Department of Transportation makes the final decision on the contract award, the department routinely asks the city for its feedback.
City Manager Craig McConnell said the matter would be back on the agenda for the council's voting session on March 26. The deadline for the city's recommendation to the Federal Aviation Administration is March 29.
The new contract is set to begin on May 1.