I’ve long admired SkyWest’s business record, and the fact that the Utah-born regional airline has grown and remained strong throughout the last decades of turbulent economic times. I’ve often wished that Moab could be served by such a credible airline, but learned years ago that SkyWest wasn’t interested in serving little ole’ Moab because the demand for flights here wasn’t on par with other cities and towns that the company served. Historically and currently headquartered in St. George where it began in 1972, I often felt that SkyWest and its executives turned a blind eye toward Moab while it connected St. George and Cedar City to metropolitan areas around the U.S. It seems now that the company’s eyes are opening to the merits of Moab.
In my view we haven’t had dependable, regular air service to a major city since Alpine Air stopped landing in Moab in the mid-1990s. Although Alpine used a small aircraft that didn’t offer supplemental oxygen to passengers, the trusty plane made it back and forth to Moab filled with people and cargo every day, and the gatekeepers and pilots became part of our community.
Flights in and out of Moab have long been subsidized by federal essential air service funding, which has been a mixed blessing in terms of the variety and continuity of service we have seen over the years. We have heard debates over whether Moab should be connected to Salt Lake City, Denver and even Las Vegas; in recent years the daily flights have connected us to Denver. That might be OK for tourism travel, but it doesn’t help local business people get to the state capital in a timely manner. Vehicular traffic counts would surely show that residents drive to Salt Lake much more often than they drive to Denver.
The Grand County Airport Board and County Council are endorsing SkyWest as their airline of choice, with the destination being Salt Lake. We will soon learn whether federal decision-makers will make their choice based on dollars or sense. SkyWest’s bid to serve Moab for the two-year period beginning Jan. 1, 2014, calls for a $2.3 million annual subsidy, while the current service provider, Great Lakes, is asking for an extension of their contract at $1.8 million per year. A third bidder, Boutique Airlines out of San Francisco, isn’t likely to win the nod with a bid much higher than the other two.
SkyWest, which is known nationally for its code-sharing partnerships with Delta, American, United, US Airways and Alaska Air, proposes to use a 30-passenger plane, greatly increasing the capacity over Great Lakes’ 19-seat aircraft. Increased flyership could help Moab transition away from needing a federal air service subsidy. The company flies to 180 destinations as opposed to Great Lakes’ 45.
But it’s not the size of the plane that interests me, it’s the dependability of the airline, the practicality of connecting to Salt Lake City over Denver, the increased network for global air travel, and most importantly, the ease of getting to and from Moab. A person could get to Paris and New York in two legs if SkyWest served Moab. That thought alone makes me want to fly, fly away.