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Air service grounded in Devils Lake, Thief River; Great Lakes pulling out of Minneapolis hub says mayor

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Air service grounded in Devils Lake, Thief River; Great Lakes pulling out of Minneapolis hub says mayor
Grand Forks North Dakota 375 2nd Ave. N. 58203

Thief River Falls, Devils Lake and Jamestown, N.D., will lose commercial passenger air service this week.

Great Lakes Airlines, which has been providing air service for two years under federal Essential Air Service contracts, informed airport officials late last week that it would discontinue service on or around Jan. 31.

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In a news release issued Monday afternoon, Great Lakes said it will suspend air service, effective Saturday, to Devils Lake and Jamestown in North Dakota, Thief River Falls, as well as to Fort Dodge and Mason City, Iowa.

“Due to the unintended consequences of the new congressionally mandated pilot regulatory requirements, the company feels it is in the best interest of our customers, communities and employees to suspend service from these stations until we are able to rebuild our staff of pilots in order to provide reliable service,” Great Lakes CEO Charles Howell said in a news release. “We deeply regret and apologize for this inconvenience.”

Great Lakes, originally based in Spirit Lake, Iowa, but now in Cheyenne, Wyo., had been under contract, through a federal Department of Transportation Essential Air Service program, to provide service to Devils Lake and Jamestown through March 31 and to Thief River Falls through May 31.

“My understanding is they’re pulling out of the Minneapolis hub,” Devils Lake Mayor Dick Johnson said.

Possible replacement

Both Devils Lakes and Jamestown had recommended earlier this month that Great Lakes be replaced by SkyWest Airlines, based in Utah, for the 2014-16 contract.

Local officials in both communities cited diminishing service by Great Lakes over the past several months, after the new pilot regulations took effect in August.

Great Lakes, which had been providing three daily round trips on 19-passenger turboprop planes between Devils Lake and Minneapolis, with stops in Jamestown, had decreased the frequency to about two per day in December and one a day this month, according to John Nord, Devils Lake airport manager.

He said Howell told him in a telephone call late last week that the company had 300 pilots a year ago, but now has just about 100.

“They’re a feeder for mid-size regional airlines and the big airlines,” Nord said.

SkyWest is proposing one daily direct round-trip to Denver from Devils Lake and from Jamestown on a 50-passenger turbojet aircraft.

Devils Lake and Jamestown officials participated in a conference telephone call Monday afternoon with North Dakota’s congressional delegation and with Susan Kurland, DOT Assistant Secretary for Aviation and International Affairs, to discuss air service to the two cities.

“We’re making a pitch to approve SkyWest as soon as possible,” Johnson said, “though I don’t know if SkyWest can ramp up any faster.”

According to a news release from Sens. John Hoeven, R-N.D., and Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., DOT officials said they would announce new EAS contracts this week.

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Kevin Bonham
Kevin Bonham covers regional news, mostly from northeast North Dakota, for the Grand Forks Herald. A North Dakota native who grew up in Mandan and Dickinson, he has been a reporter or an editor with the Herald and Forum Communications for more than 30 years. Find his articles at: www.grandforksherald.com. He welcomes story ideas via email, kbonham@gfherald.com, or by phone, (701) 780-1110.  
(701) 780-1110
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