By Joey Gerardi
Contour Airlines Adds Three New EAS Cities Vacated By SkyWest
The U.S. Essential Air Service has seen some strain recently as three airlines — the most recent carrier being Cape Air — requested to terminate at least two of their contracts before they were due to expire.
As a result, the government has been forced to look for other operators to fill those voids. It began to make progress on that front on Tuesday, as it was announced that Smyrna, Tenn.-based Contour Airlines has been awarded two former SkyWest contracted cities; Plattsburgh and Ogdensburg, both of which are located in northern New York. These two cities have had quite a turbulent past five months.
Back in January 2022, these were the first two communities SkyWest announced it would like to terminate, and its EAS bidding process began. Boutique Air was the only bidder for Ogdensburg, and Cape Air was the only bidder for Plattsburgh. Both communities rejected the bids as they failed to meet minimum seat requirements and would significantly reduce the number of available seats out of their respective communities.
Both communities announced they would be looking into Alternate Essential Air Service (AEAS) options. The two programs are essentially the same except for a few key points. Perhaps the most important difference is that with AEAS, instead of awarding a contract to the airline and the federal government paying for the service, the government gives a grant to the community, and it’s up to them to pay the carrier and manage that relationship. There is also a lot more freedom in terms of route variability, and the airline can work directly with the community to meet their needs, rather than going through the government and submitting a proposal to make adjustments to the service.
Under the new proposals, each community will be receiving nonstop service to Philadelphia — which will also be a new city for Contour — onboard 30-seat Embraer E135s. The service to both communities is contracted to begin on July 1 and run until Sept. 30, 2024. Although the contract doesn’t say how frequently the flight will operate, it is assumed to be between 12 and 14 weekly flights as the communities have mentioned in the past.
In Plattsburgh, the subsidy will not exceed $4,187,568 for the first year, $4,271,320 for the second year, and a prorated portion of $4,271,320 for the remaining three months of the contract from July to September 2024, which will be $1,067,830. In Ogdensburg, the subsidy will not exceed $4,931,190 for the first year, $5,029,814 for the second year,
and a pro-rated portion of $5,029,814 for the remaining three months of the contract from July to September of 2024 which will be at a cost of $1,257,453.
With these three new airports, this will bring Contour up to a total of 19 destinations, 10 of which will be AEAS communities. Passengers in Plattsburgh and Ogdensburg will be able to enjoy American Airlines hub connectivity as the carrier offers interline and baggage agreements with the carrier.
This means neither community will lose the connection opportunities of a large airline. Rather, they will just be switching hubs from Washington D.C.’s Dulles International Airport to Philadelphia International Airport, with the principal connecting airline switching from United Airlines to American. This will be the third EAS/AEAS contract out of Philadephia, as American operates EAS flights to another northern N.Y. community from the Philadelphia hub, Watertown, located only 55 miles from Ogdensburg.