An early-morning departure and an evening return flight to Falls International Airport are included in a new proposal by Mesaba Airlines for providing continuing air service for the region.
The new proposal, released Nov. 19 by the U.S. Department of Transportation, was submitted after Mesaba’s initial offer was rejected by the DoT in October.
The DoT oversees the federal Essential Air Service program, and is charged with obtaining proposals from air carriers to provide passenger service to airports that qualify for the EAS program.
Mesaba, which was acquired by Delta as part of its merger with Northwest Airlines, was the only carrier to submit a proposal for the Falls airport.
Mesaba’s initial proposal offered the same schedule now in use by the airline.
The schedule that has been in place since September, with two flights departing our airport in the afternoon, has not served area travellers or our airport, according to Bob Anderson, chair of the International Falls-Koochiching County Airport Commission.
Anderson said the commission has received a multitude of comments and complaints from would-be travellers who were unable to make their connecting flights out of the Twin Cities or who had to overnight there in order to be on time for a next day’s departure.
Anderson also pointed to the schedule to explain a significant drop in airport usage since it went into effect.
The number of travellers fell 10 percent in September over 2008 numbers, he noted, and 15 percent in October.
After the first proposal was received, the city of International Falls, Koochiching County, and the airport commission joined together in a strongly-worded disapproval of the flight schedule.
According to its decision handed down on Oct. 12, the DoT agreed with the community’s assessment. A request for new proposals was issued and the deadline for carriers to submit offers was Nov. 18.
Mesaba turned in two separate proposals in this second round of submissions.
The first was the same as the one submitted earlier while the second offers a first departure from the Falls at 6:55 a.m. and a last return in the evening that departs the Twin Cities at 9:30 p.m.
The aircraft then would overnight in the Falls for the first flight out the next day.
A midday turnaround flight would depart Minneapolis-St. Paul at 2:30 p.m., arrive in the Falls at 4:05 p.m., and depart back for the Twins Cities at 4:25 p.m.
According to Anderson, the next step in the process is for the community to respond to the proposals.
If the community expresses a preference, the DoT will make a decision about whether the preferred proposal meets both the community’s needs and federal cost guidelines.
Once all the parties have agreed on the service and the cost, Anderson said, a contract between Mesaba and the City of International Falls will be signed and service will continue for the term of the contract.
According to information released by the DoT, Mesaba is asking $1.9 million per year for its original proposal and $2.3 million for the new proposal that includes overnighting the aircraft.
That funding would come from the EAS program, which was put into place after airline deregulation in 1978 to help smaller communities retain their service by providing subsidies to the airlines that provide the needed daily flights.
Anderson said the money in the EAS fund comes from fees paid by international aircraft overflying the United States, as well as from ticket taxes and taxes on aviation fuel.
“The idea is that everyone who uses the airports and the airspace does their part to keep them available to all,” he noted.