JOPLIN, Mo. —
Bids are being taken to provide airline service at the Joplin Regional Airport.
The U.S. Department of Transportation has issued a request for proposals for commercial airline service at the airport starting in March.
Current air service is provided by American Eagle, affiliated with American Airlines, and airport manager Steve Stockam said city officials want to continue with that service.
“We’ve worked with American and we definitely want to support American,” Stockam said.
American is currently providing two flights a day to and from the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport. The airline is using 44-seat jets.
Stockam said brand-name service to the large airport hub has been successful in dramatically increasing passenger counts.
The bid request notes that Joplin had 7,695 passengers in 2010 when there was a small, regional carrier but that the count increased in 2011 to 53,210 with the American Eagle service.
Stockam hopes that if American is selected again, service can be expanded.
“Our discussion has been that if they get this bid, we can look at service to another hub,” such as to Chicago. “It will not be part of the EAS (Essential Air Service); it will have to survive on its own,” Stockam said. “We feel (that with) the amount of passengers to Dallas/Fort Worth, we can substantiate the passenger count” for another hub airport.
“We are losing a lot of our eastbound traffic because it takes too long to get there” through the Dallas airport, he added.
The DOT asks for proposals to be filed by Oct. 17.
“Then they will send us copies of all the bids and give us a 30-day comment period” for city officials and airport users to send in recommendations. “We will work with our air service consultant to submit our comments. Based on our comments, the DOT will make an award,” Stockam said. “We hope the DOT will have all that done by the end of the year.”
The federal government is currently paying a subsidy of $2,778,756 for American service in Joplin, and Stockam said it would be logical for the DOT to look for new proposals that cost less.
“I suspect we will see a lower number” for the subsidy request, “and the reason being if they come with a number higher, the DOT is going to question them because of the 53,000 passengers” who are paying fares, he said.
“In talking to American and the DOT, I think everyone is very pleased with the success we’ve had, but I think that (subsidy) number is going to have to be adjusted.”
American Airlines has filed for bankruptcy to restructure, and Stockam said he is confident that plan will work.
“We met with American about that and we are going to work with them on this bid. We feel with the success we’ve had, we’d like to see it on through and we’d like to get more service,” Stockam said.
The Essential Air Service subsidy is given to airports that previously have had commercial airline service but have sustained a setback through no fault of their own.