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Plattsburgh International to Lose Big Sky

December 19th, 2007 · 2 Comments · News

Whoa! Look what I just read on TU The Buzz Business News:

Big Sky ending all upstate air service

The Billings, Mont.-based regional carrier, which flew in the Northeast and Midwest as Delta Connection, will end that service Jan. 7, it announced Wednesday afternoon.

The company blamed bad weather, weak revenue and high fuel prices for its decision.

The move leaves communities from Plattsburgh and Saranac Lake to Watertown, Massena and Ogdensburg without regular air service. Plattsburgh does have twice-weekly flights to Florida.

Earlier this week, Big Sky confirmed it would end its Boston-Albany flights on Jan. 7, three days after Colgan Air, flying as US Airways Express, ends its own service on the route. Albany airport officials said they’re seeking another carrier to serve the route. (Link)

Even with an EAS subsidy. I’ve been hearing lot’s of complaints, way more than has been in the news. Big Sky has been taken to task by many a local official that backed their subsidy application. All the early celebration about Big Sky was really a sham since they were the only interested applicant. Sort of like running unopposed for public office. Any vote gets you in.

Allegiant is another story. They have, in the commercial carrier world, a pretty unique business model. It has limited functional use, but serves as sort of a regular charter service to Florida. Great if you want to go to Ft Lauderdale, sucks otherwise. Their business model is also based on buying aged equipment which other carriers no longer consider efficient to operate.

Anyway, the bright side of the story is that according to a Federal guy working at the airport (1 of 7 full-time), the county legislators can’t wait to have a brand new building for their offices. Who wouldn’t want copper rain gutters and down spouts? The amount of money spent on the airport and to keep our EAS designation has been huge. Hundreds of millions is not a crazy guess. Of course, the argument would be that having a the regular service (empty seats flying around, or late or canceled) benefits the local economy in some even bigger way.

Update: I was running some numbers this morning and here is what I found:

Enterprise Rent-a-car has one-way drop-off to Burlington International – $75
Plattsburgh City Taxi will drive for $80 + Ferry charge = about $100 They only need about 20 minutes notice. $95 gets you to Montreal Trudeau International Airport.

The EAS subsidy of $2.5 million for 2 years would pay for almost 35 rides per day. You figure, if this was regular service the price would drop. Plus, the regular taxi can hold up to three passengers. That’s just the subsidy amount. Consider that the airport cost many times that amount.

Latest news, Big Sky has been cutoff from fuel and services at the Adirondack Regional Airport in Saranac Lake. Seems they owe $51,000. I wonder if there is a bill here in Plattsburgh? Who will end up eating that?


Big Sky Airlines pulls out (audio)
Blame is being spread around by all involved in what I will call “the Big Sky Debacle”. I blame it on everyone ignoring the one thing that matters, the Free Market.

Big Sky leaves big debt
Adirondack Airport cuts off fuel supply to Big Sky airline over debt… Big Sky offered town crews a credit card, but it wouldn’t take $51,000. “So they didn’t get any fuel,” DeFuria said. “We’ve cut them off.”

Big Sky parent company cuts off capital
“Big Sky Airlines’ parent company is cutting off its funding and telling it minimize expenses while it shuts down service in the Northeast.” – And what’s up with the “astronomical” cost of ground transport?

New End Date for Big Sky?
“Big Sky Airlines was supposed to continue to provide the service until Jan. 7 but has now changed the official end date for the flight to Dec. 23.” – Actually, they are done at KSLK right now – credit declined.

Order Selecting Carriers and Establishing Subsidy Rates (PDF)
Weekly Compensation Plattsburgh: $23,870.88

QUESTION: How is it determined which communities are guaranteed EAS and which are not?
Currently, communities are not eligible to receive subsidized air service if they are within 70 driving miles of an FAA-designated Large or Medium Hub airport…

Plattsburgh to Burlington Int’l Airport
It’s only 32 miles according to Google. Takes about an hour including the ferry ride. My favorite fly in/out choice.

Plattsburgh NY to Aéroport Int’l P-E-Trudeau de MTL, Canada
64.8 mi – about 1 hour 18 mins – mmm, yeah, that’s about right. I’d call this a Large Hub.

Subsidized EAS Communities: Proximity to Hubs and Jet Service (PDF)
According to this, Plattsburgh’s nearest Large/Med Hub is Manchester NH at 242 miles (Google says 199), nearest Small Hub is Burlington VT at 78 miles. Creative odometer readings otherwise we should be ineligible.

GAO EAS Report (PDF)
Changes in Subsidy Levels, Air Carrier Costs, and Passenger Traffic – Possibly too much information. My read is that this program was broken from the ourset.

Big Sky pullout could violate federal rules (audio)
First they threaten them for their service issues – they quit. Now local leaders think they can force them to keep operating.

Talking about Big Sky
Some very interesting, but unsuprising analysis. EAS is in trouble, the 19-seaters are on their way out. From all account, this system of flight/airport subsidies is terminal like the former Soviet Union.

Pilots Predicted Failure
“They’ll find a way to screw it all up. I give the operation 6 months until the lack of advertising and continuous cancellations screw everything over.” – Read this whole thread, it is right on target.

“Yeah Big Sky is going to fly into plattsburgh. It’s funny because the big politician up there, who keeps on promising southwest or jetblue, is now praising big sky and how it’s going to be a great improvement.”

Mesa Air chairman says North Country air route bid unlikely
The future for EAS flights in Plattsburgh looks grim.

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