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11:50 AM Sun, Nov. 18th

Prescott changes course on commercial service at municipal airport

Decision could result in several-month gap in passenger service

Boutique Air brought one of its eight passenger Pilatus PC12 aircraft to Prescott for dignitaries to view Monday, April 9, 2018. The airline, if awarded the contract, plans to offer four flights per day to Los Angeles (LAX) and two flights per day to Phoenix. (Les Stukenberg/Courier)

Boutique Air brought one of its eight passenger Pilatus PC12 aircraft to Prescott for dignitaries to view Monday, April 9, 2018. The airline, if awarded the contract, plans to offer four flights per day to Los Angeles (LAX) and two flights per day to Phoenix. (Les Stukenberg/Courier)

The City of Prescott said Friday that it is putting the brakes on efforts toward interim commercial service at the Prescott Municipal Airport.

Although that could come with a several-month gap in service, officials hope the end result will be service by a carrier that offers larger aircraft — possibly in the 50-seat range.

Prescott Airport Director Robin Sobotta said late Friday that after an active week of discussions with the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), both sides agreed to abandon the interim air service contract process that had been underway.

In its place, the city is opting for a long-term contract — of two years or more — with an airline that may provide larger aircraft.

“After much discussion with the DOT, we said, ‘Let’s go forward with the long-term contract,’” Sobotta said.

City Manager Michael Lamar said the pending change in course comes with the potential for better service for the airport in the long run.

“There are a lot of moving parts, and we’ve seen a lot of last-minute interest,” Lamar said, adding that at this point, “We have more options that we ever could have hoped for.”

The Prescott City Council will discuss the matter in a closed-door executive session on Tuesday, April 24, and Lamar declined to offer specifics on the involved airlines.

He did say, however, that the available aircraft could be in the 50-seat range.

INTERIM OPTION

That would compare with the eight-passenger-plane option the city earlier endorsed.

Throughout early April, the city considered how best to replace the commercial airline service that went away with Great Lakes Airlines’ late-March suspension of service.

The surprise announcement by the city’s longtime, sole commercial carrier set off a round of bids for a short-term Essential Air Service (EAS) contract that was expected to get service restored at the local airport by mid-May.

At the same time, a bidding process for the city’s long-term EAS contract got underway, with bids due in early July.

In the interest of getting commercial service restored to the airport as soon as possible, the city had appeared poised to accept a 12-month contract with Boutique Air for an eight-passenger, single-engine Pilatus PC-12 flying to Los Angeles International Airport and Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.

The City Council endorsed Boutique’s proposal on April 10, and a letter was sent to the U.S. Department of Transportation communicating that support.

‘BETTER LONG-TERM SOLUTION’

Meanwhile, Lamar said the city has heard from larger carriers that are interested in serving Prescott in the long term. The larger carriers likely could not be on site at the Prescott Airport for several months — possibly by about early September.

Still, Lamar said, “What we’re looking toward is a far better long-term solution. The interim contract was a stop-gap measure.”

Also affecting the decision to halt the interim-bid process was a community concern about the single-engine configuration of the Pilatus planes, Sobotta said.

“We listen to the public, and there was some concern (about the single-engine planes),” she said. “That did inform our decision.”

Throughout the discussions of the past several weeks, Lamar said, “What we’ve found from our dialogues is that we have a very attractive market.”

Therefore, he said it might not be in the best interest of the city “to tie our hands with something that’s a stop-gap.”

The timing also could work out with the city’s schedule for required strengthening work on its main runway. Sobotta said the design for the $6.1 million project was completed this week, and work is expected to take place in August.

The project will require a 20-day closure of the main runway, she said. The delay in commercial service will allow the project to be complete before the new airline begins service.

RESCINDING RECOMMENDATION

Along with the City Council’s private discussion about the long-term EAS option at a 10 a.m. Tuesday, April 24 executive session, it will later consider sending another letter to the U.S. Department of Transportation rescinding its earlier recommendation for Boutique Air’s proposal.

That decision is scheduled for the council’s voting session at 3 p.m., Tuesday, at Prescott City Hall, 201 S. Cortez St. The item is on the council’s consent agenda — a list of noncontroversial matters that are typically approved with a single vote.

Sobotta said she has talked with the CEO of Boutique Air and explained the community concerns about the single-engine aircraft. She expects the airline to be among the bidders for the long-term contract.

Overall, Sobotta said, “We want to do the best we can to end this process with superior service.”