By Debby Woodin
JOPLIN, Mo. —
Joplin will continue to receive federally subsidized airline service at the Joplin Regional Airport from American Eagle, but on larger jets.
The federal Department of Transportation has renewed a contract for Essential Air Service with American Eagle, for two years.
The renewed contract will provide the same number of round-trip flights to Dallas as the existing service, 14 a week, but with a larger jet that will allow for six more seats per flight, according to Steve Stockam, airport manager.
“They did commit to having all 50-passenger jets instead of 44 seats,” Stockam said.
The airline service is doing so well now that the federal subsidy will drop from $2,778,756 per year to $342,560.
Joplin was placed in the federal subsidy program several years ago when the commercial airline serving Joplin at that time dissolved. After that, passenger counts continued to decline as small regional carriers bid for the work while Joplin sought a major carrier to bring passengers back.
“The last two years have been exceptional for Joplin air service,” Stockam wrote to the DOT in support of the American Eagle bid. He said American Eagle replaced a regional carrier, Great Lakes Airlines, that in 2010 carried 7,800 passengers in and out of Joplin. In the first year of American Eagle service, the passenger count multiplied to 53,000, according to Stockam.
The 44-passenger jets that have been used in Joplin are usually at least 80 percent full, warranting the use of larger jets, according to bid documents.
The reappointment of American Eagle as the designated carrier also opens the door to discussion about providing service to another hub, such as Chicago.
“Our discussion has been that if they get this bid, we can look at service to another hub,” such as Chicago, Stockam said earlier. “It will not be part of the EAS; it will have to survive on its own. 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, Stockam has said.
The new contract begins March 1.
AMERICAN EAGLE is affiliated with American Airlines, which has been reorganizing under bankruptcy protection. Steve Stockam, manager of the Joplin Regional Airport, said he understands that American has renegotiated some contracts with its union workers that should allow it to emerge from bankruptcy during the first quarter of this year.
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly referred to "Executive Airlines, doing business as American Eagle."