Great Lakes wins city’s favor

Pacific Wings CEO Frank Ford gives a presentation Thursday at the City Commission meeting on why Clovis should choose his airline. (CNJ staff photo: Andy DeLisle)

By Marlena Hartz: CNJ Staff Writer

City commissioners said constituent wishes guided their Thursday endorsement of Great Lakes Aviation as the city’s air service provider.

Their recommendation the Wyoming-based airline provide flights to and from Clovis will be sent to the U.S. Department of Transportation, which will decide in March what airline gets a federal subsidy to serve Clovis.

Hawaiian-based Pacific Wings Airlines also wants the subsidy to provide Clovis air service.

Pacific Wings uses unpressurized, nine-seat, turboprop Cessna Caravans. Great Lakes uses 19-seat, pressurized Beechcraft 1900Ds.

“The outcry that I heard from the community is, ‘Please don’t go to a smaller plane,’” City Commissioner Randy Crowder said during Thursday’s city commission meeting.

Federal statutes dictate essential air service routes be served by pressurized aircraft with 15 or more passenger seats, unless communities waive their right to such service, or no such service is available.

“Not one person said, ‘I don’t want Great Lakes,’” City Commissioner Robert Sandoval said of his constituents.

Great Lakes has provided Clovis daily air service to Albuquerque for two years. In the first nine months of 2006, 3,216 passengers used the Clovis-Albuquerque service, according to a press release from Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M.
Great Lakes also offers flights between Clovis and Amarillo and Denver.

Great Lakes spokesperson Monica Taylor said her airline is pleased about the outcome of Thursday’s meeting.

“We are proud to serve Clovis,” Taylor said.

Taylor and Pacific Wings Chief Executive Officer Frank Ford pitched their airlines at Thursday’s meeting.

According to proposals submitted to the U.S. Department of Transportation, Pacific Wings could provide air service in Clovis and Silver City for an annual subsidy of about $966,000 less per year than Great Lakes.

Great Lakes’ bid was roughly $2.46 million per year, according to government documents.

Pacific Wing officials said the airline wants to wean itself from essential air service federal subsidies, which are distributed to ensure rural communities are served by certified aircraft.

Ford warned Thursday essential air service subsidies are in jeopardy of being cut by Congress. He said Pacific Wings opted to end its Hawaiian subsidies in March.
“Responsible federal funding is what I’m for,” Clovis Mayor David Lansford said Thursday. “(But) I’m not ready to be a pioneer, so to speak.

“I think we need to be open to change, but we are not in a situation we have a necessity for change,” he said.

Although his campaign in Clovis did not sway commissioners, Ford said he hopes it will improve Great Lakes service to the region.

The two-year essential air service contract for Clovis and Silver City begins May 1.
Silver City also prefers Great Lakes over Pacific Wings, according to a letter sent to Clovis commissioners by Silver City officials.

Pacific Wings President Greg Kahlstorf said earlier his company would consider coming to Clovis even if it didn’t receive the federal subsidy. Ford said Thursday the company would not come to Clovis without the subsidy because it wouldn’t be profitable.