By Joey Gerardi
Sun Country Schedules First-of-its-Kind EAS Flight
In mid-July 2022, the Department of Transportation posted a document selecting Sun Country as the airline that will serve the Essential Air Service of Eau Claire in Wisconsin. When the DOT decision was made it was a shock to most as there has never been an aircraft this large operating an EAS route within the lower 48 states. Southern Airways Express even posted a letter arguing they didn’t meet certain EAS requirements.
The contract and the start of the flights to Eau Claire are both on the same day, flights to Minneapolis/St. Paul starts on Dec. 1, 2022, although flights to Fort Myers don’t start until Dec. 19, 2022. Flights to Ft. Myers will operate on Fridays and Mondays, with flights operating from Eau Claire to Minneapolis once a day on Thursdays and Fridays and twice a day on Mondays. Flights from Minneapolis to Eau Claire operate on Sundays, Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.
On Mondays and Fridays, it appears an aircraft will operate from Ft. Myers to Eau Claire and onto Minneapolis, and shortly after the same thing will happen in reverse back to Florida. Although it is 100% possible to fly from Florida to Minneapolis with a connection through Eau Claire on the same aircraft given the current schedules, the airline doesn’t offer that flight option on their website. Although you could book those flights separately if you have a burning desire to connect in Eau Claire.
With the current schedule to Eau Claire, the airline is only operating flights to the community on four days of the week with departures only occurring from Eau Claire on three of them. This means Eau Claire will have zero departures on Sundays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays. On Sundays, there is one arrival at 8:30 p.m. from Minneapolis that will sit overnight in Eau Claire until the Monday morning departure at 5:15 a.m., and on Wednesdays, one arrival at 5:15 p.m. which then sits at Eau Claire for 12 hours overnight until the 5:15 a.m. departure on Thursdays.
Back when the airline was still bidding for the contract, it mentioned it would offer a bus service between Eau Claire and Minneapolis on the days they don’t offer flights. This bus/shuttle service is not part of the EAS contract, and not a single word has been mentioned regarding the ground transportation to Sun Country’s Minneapolis hub or when it would start.
However, if you are looking for a fun AvGeek experience, the inaugural flight to Eau Claire on Dec. 1 operates on a different schedule with the aircraft operating from Minneapolis to Eau Claire and back in the middle of the day.