The Times-Independent

Feds finally approve new air service

Moab flights set for Phoenix starting Feb. 1

This article was updated Oct. 27 with new information.

After months of uncertainty, locals and visitors can start to regain confidence in their travel plans with new commercial air service approved for Canyonlands Regional Airport.

Canyonlands Regional Airport is nearly set to change its air service provider from SkyWest to Contour beginning Feb. 1.
Photo by Sophia Fisher

Beginning Feb. 1, Contour Airlines is set to take over commercial air service from the airport’s current provider, SkyWest Airlines. Contour will offer flights to Phoenix in partnership with American Airlines, replacing SkyWest’s Denver and Salt Lake City connections through United and Delta, respectively.

Airport Director Tammy Howland confirmed that SkyWest will continue serving Moab through Jan. 31.

After several months of consideration, the U.S. Department of Transportation recently approved the new contract with the Tennessee-based Contour. The department regulates Moab’s air service through the Essential Air Service program, a federal aviation subsidy for rural communities.

Howland said the airport still has some paperwork to complete before the connection is official, but “the pieces are falling into place.”

“We wanted to let the public know that it’s moving forward,” she said.

In addition to Contour’s service, Redtail Air Adventures will also provide a twice-weekly Salt Lake City connection beginning Oct. 31. Those flights can be booked at Funded in part by Grand County economic development funds, they’re currently scheduled to last one year.

Contour’s contract, on the other hand, is for 32 months, through autumn 2026. As the contract expires, Grand County can decide whether to remain with Contour or opt to, say, return to SkyWest if that airline submits a bid.

“It just leaves the opportunity open for us as a community for us to make the best choice,” Howland said.

The airport is also seeing robust utilization this year: its enplanements, meaning the number of people who fly out from the airport, is currently 13% above the same time of year in 2019.

The facility likely won’t approach enplanement totals from the boom years of 2021 and 2022, but Howland said she’s still satisfied.

“The trend for most airports right now is there’s a decrease” compared to pre-pandemic years, she said. “But Moab is showing an increase.”

Howland added that she and Contour’s CEO are also working to possibly bring online a potential second destination, most likely Denver or Salt Lake City.

The timing of such an addition “is really dependent on [the] destination,” Howland said. Specifically, it will depend on Contour’s ability to negotiate contracts with the main airlines servicing those airports.

The search for a new air service provider started in early spring after the federal transportation department twice rejected SkyWest’s bid to renew its contract with Moab and Vernal, which share Essential Air Service contracts.

The St. George-based airline had proposed using an aviation license it hadn’t yet acquired, requiring the county to hunt for a new provider.

“During this difficult eight-month period, the airport director, Grand County commissioners and the [Grand County] Airport Board put their heads together to solve the problem and not lose our very important commercial airline services,” wrote Howland in an Oct. 26 press release.

Howland also thanked the community “for its patience during this difficult process.”