By Joey Gerardi
SkyWest/United Express Cut Another City
Back in the Spring of 2022 SkyWest, under the United Express brand, requested to terminate 31 Essential Air Services (EAS) communities. In some of these communities, SkyWest has already left and new carriers have come in, like the community of Alamosa in Colorado. While some cities still have SkyWest but have had a new carrier selected like the Eau Claire, Wis. contract was selected in July 2022 but the service on the new carrier Sun Country doesn’t begin until Dec. 1, 2022.
There are some communities that SkyWest won’t actually be leaving at all, as some communities have very much disliked the airlines that have submitted proposals and would rather stick with SkyWest despite the uncertainty of the current service levels.
The community of Muskegon, Michigan (MKG) is the sixth community out of the 31 communities to have a new carrier officially selected. Palm Beach, Fla.-based Southern Airways Express is the airline that has been selected for the contract in this west Michigan community. This will bring the total number of EAS contracts held by Southern Airways Express up to 15, and will also be the first contract held by the airline in Michigan and within the Midwest.
The contract is scheduled to begin on Oct.1 2022 and will run for four years until Sept. 30, 2026. They will operate 36-weekly flights to Chicago O’Hare using a 9-seat single engine Cessna 208 Caravan. The annual subsidy will be $3,918,899 for the first year, $4,016,872 for the second year, $4,117,293 for the third year, and $4,220,226 for the fourth year.
Muskegon Airport Director Joel Burgess did have something to say regarding the service in a recent interview with 13abc news, “Our current levels of service with SkyWest would really translate to one flight a day, throughout the week. And at times that flight may not have been that well-timed to connect passengers at the Chicago O’Hare hub to where they needed to go. So, one of our requests to the Department of Transportation was to go out and look for a carrier who was able to provide a more expanded type of service into the Chicago O’Hare International Airport.”
This is evident currently as with SkyWest, the first daily departure occurs around 1P.M. and the last arrival for the day occurs around 3:30 P.M. terrible timing for those wising to make connections in or out of United’s Chicago hub. Should the worse happen, not only could a passenger miss a flight but also miss the only flight back into Muskegon, leaving them stranded in Chicago.
While the airline has yet to post its exact flight schedule on its site, Joel Burgess did mention that they would serve the community with six flights a day Monday through Friday, and three flights a day on the weekends. This will dramatically increase the number of flights and connecting opportunities in Chicago, especially since Southern Airways Express has interline baggage agreements with United, American, and Alaska Airlines. Passengers will actually be gaining more connection opportunities with three airlines they can now connect with, two of which have hubs at Chicago O’Hare.
This also will give Southern Airways Express a second new airport, Chicago O’Hare, as they currently don’t fly to the airport. It will also mark the return of passenger Cessna 208 service into Chicago, as the last airline to do that was Air Choice One, an airline that was actually merged into Southern Airways Express this year.