Fight for flight

A Great Lakes plane arrives at the Clovis Municipal Airport from Albuquerque. (CNJ staff photo: Andy DeLisle)

By Marlena Hartz: CNJ Staff Writer

A Hawaiian-based airline that wants to win a federal subsidy to provide air service in New Mexico is on a campaign blitz.

Pacific Wings Airlines challenges government officials in a radio commercial that aired in Clovis this week. “Tell mayors and commissioners to cut the waste,” the commercial urges.

That’s not all.

Pacific Wings Chief Executive Officer Frank Ford, who arrived in town Wednesday, said he plans to share his vision for Clovis air service face-to-face with Clovis leaders.

Pacific Wings hired Clovis attorney Randall Harris after the Clovis Civil Aviation Board endorsed incumbent Great Lakes Aviation, an airline based in Wyoming. Great Lakes has provided Clovis daily air service to Albuquerque for two years. In three quarters in 2006, 3,216 passengers used the Clovis-Albuquerque service.

Pacific Wings contends it could provide annual air service in Clovis and Silver City for about $966,000 less per year than Great Lakes, according to a proposal submitted to the U.S. Department of Transportation. The airline also intends to wean itself from the federal subsidy, which it’s done in three Hawaiian communities, according to Ford.

Pacific Wings would offer flights on nine-passenger planes, while Great Lakes utilizes 19-passenger planes.

The essential air service program is designed to ensure small communities are served by certified air carriers.

Ultimately, the U.S. Department of Transportation will decide which airline gets the federal subsidy to provide essential air service to Clovis and Silver City/Hurley/Deming. Community input is a factor in the decision.

The Clovis City Commission postponed endorsing Great Lakes or Pacific Wings last week at the request of Pacific Wings. Endorsement by the Commission rests largely on the recommendation of the Civil Aviation Board, city officials said.

Pacific Wings representatives plan to address the Commission during a meeting on Thursday.

“We’re very concerned about any board that represents the taxpayers that would consciously choose to waste $2 million more than necessary to deliver this service,” Pacific Wings President Greg Kahlstorf told the Clovis News Journal last week.

Kahlstorf also plans to lobby for Pacific Wings in Clovis and around New Mexico, he said.

But a cheap offer isn’t the only thing Pacific Wings needs to win the essential service contract.

The nine-passenger, unpressurized planes Pacific Wings utilizes do not meet federal standards for essential air service routes.

“Given that we have a viable proposal from Great Lakes, the Department would not select Pacific Wings’ proposal, unless we receive written support for such a selection from each of the communities involved,” reads a letter from the U.S. Department of Transportation to Clovis Mayor David Lansford.

Pacific Wings requested that waiver from Clovis, but so far hasn’t gotten it, according to Lansford. The city of Albuquerque has endorsed Pacific Wings via letter.

Lansford said Thursday he is “strongly leaning toward” Great Lakes.

“I am not sure that it’s the right thing to do to go against (federal) standards. We have a tremendous investment in our municipal airport, and we want to make it the best it can be,” Lansford said.

The city has major upgrades planned for the airport, including a runway extension for which funding has been obtained.

City Commissioner Robert Sandoval said he will listen to the Pacific Wings proposal with “an open mind.”

He and Lansford declined to comment on the Pacific Wings radio commercial.

Clovis and Silver City had until today to endorse an airline. The U.S. Department of Transportation extended the deadline to Feb. 16 at the behest of Silver City, Essential Air Service Division representative Kevin Schlemmer said Thursday.

Schlemmer said the Department should decide which airline gets the federal subsidy in March.

The two-year essential air service contract begins May 1.

On the ‘Net
Read more about Clovis Municipal Airport
proposals for service at http://dms.dot.gov/
Click on simple search and enter docket # 1902.