Aviation board votes to extend contract

By Marlena Hartz: CNJ Staff Writer

A Clovis subcommittee believes Clovis Municipal Airport’s resident airline’s large flights mesh with the airport’s plan for growth.

The Clovis Civil Aviation Board unanimously agreed Tuesday to recommend the city extend its contract with Wyoming-based Great Lakes Aviation, which provides flights to Albuquerque as well as Amarillo and Denver.

That dims prospects for Pacific Wings, a Hawaiian-based airline that underbid Great Lakes in a grab for federally subsidized air service in Clovis.

Pacific Wings proposed offering nine-seat flights to and from Clovis. Great Lakes has offered 19-seat flights to and from Clovis for two years.

“I don’t want to go from a 19-seat passenger plane to a nine-seat passenger plane. That doesn’t fit the direction I want to go in. It’s almost like backing up,” Board Chairman Roger Hatcher said.

The Board’s recommendation will be presented Thursday to the Clovis City Commission.

The Commission will recommend Great Lakes or Pacific Wings to the U.S. Department of Transportation, which will ultimately decide which airline gets the federal subsidy for the Clovis air service in New Mexico.

Federal subsidies distributed through the Essential Air Service program guarantee small communities are served by certified air carriers.

The contract for Essential Air Service for Clovis and Silver City lasts for two years, beginning May 1.

Great Lakes received an annual subsidy of about $1.7 million to provide service on Clovis and Silver City routes.

Pacific Wings would operate those routes with an approximate $1.49 million annual subsidy, according to a copy of its bid.

“I have confidence that New Mexico elected leaders will not ask the federal government to waste money providing 19-seat fights,” Pacific Wings President Greg Kahlstorf said in a phone interview.

He said his airline might pursue air service in New Mexico even if it doesn’t get the Clovis/Silver City contract.

Clovis officials want the New Mexico Legislature to fund $900,000 for Clovis airport improvements, and an 1,800-foot airport runway extension is in progress.

Steve Summers, director of the airport, predicts passenger volume may quadruple when 16th Special Operations Wing assumes ownership of Cannon Air Force Base in October.

“We feel it’s in the best interest of Clovis and Cannon to continue with Great Lakes,” Summers said.