Airline service would offer more flights at higher cost

Kevin Wilson

A new airline that aims to serve Clovis says it can do more with less — provided customers pick up some of the tab.

New Mexico Airlines, a division of Hawaii-based Pacific Wings, is proposing to offer three Albuquerque-Clovis round trips. Unlike previous airlines to serve the Clovis Municipal Airport, NMA plans to do it without the federal Essential Air Service subsidy.

The change would eliminate Clovis’ relationship with Great Lakes Airlines, which has served the local airport since 2006.

Airport Director Steve Summers said NMA has not been in contact with the airport regarding negotiations yet.

Great Lakes currently offers 12 Albuquerque round-trips — two every weekday, and one each on Saturday and Sunday. Its most recent two-year contract, which expires April 30, offers 12 flights and takes in an annual EAS subsidy of $1.52 million.

A round trip on Great Lakes, booked for April 18-19, is $158 per passenger for a non-refundable, and jumps to $358 for a refundable ticket. That same trip, booked through New Mexico Airlines May on 16-17, is $608 per passenger.

New Mexico Airlines’ selling point for the price bump is simple — the passenger is the only one paying for the flight.

“There has to be more to your business model than collecting subsidies,” NMA President Gabriel Kimbrell said. “Otherwise, it’s just airline welfare.

“It’s the only sustainable approach.”

The approach allows NMA to fly its smaller, nine-passenger planes. Subsidized airlines are required to fly pressurized planes with room for at least 15.

Pacific Wings put in a bid to serve the Clovis airport in 2007, and undertook a marketing campaign telling citizens to put pressure on elected officials to reduce dependence on government. Its proposal aimed to wean the city off of EAS services.

City commissioners chose Great Lakes, and nobody else submitted a bid when it renewed two years later.

Clovis Mayor Gayla Brumfield said the city put out a request for proposal and received four bids, including NMA’s. One was not considered because it required cooperation with four Arizona cities, and the other two — including Great Lakes’ — required an EAS subsidy.

Brumfield understands the concern about relying on federal dollars, but notes that everybody hates government spending, provided it’s on other people, and the city of Amarillo has used taxpayer money to subsidize American Airlines service.

“In rural areas, if we’re going to have airline services, you have to have some type of help,” Brumfield said. “I don’t see how people are going to be able to do $600 roundtrip in a smaller plane that’s not pressurized.”

Sanda Taylor-Sawyer of Clovis said she uses Great Lakes services about 12 times a year. She said she would have to drive to Albuquerque if the new prices become a reality, and feels Great Lakes is a good value.

“With the big tornado that came (in 2007), unfortunately, I was flying that day and we had to fly into Amarillo,” Taylor-Sawyer said. “The professionalism of the pilot was just great. I just felt like I was their No. 1 priority.”

New Mexico Airlines said that it would do everything it can to reduce overhead, and welcomes customer suggestions.

Dennis J. DeVany, chief of the Essential Air Service DivisionU.S. Department of Transportation’s Office of Aviation Analysis, sent an e-mail to city administrators regarding bids earlier this month.

“We assure Clovis, however, that the community is still entitled to EAS,” DeVany wrote. “Therefore, if at some point in the future New Mexico Airlines decided to suspend service at Clovis, it would first have to file a 90-day notice of its intent to suspend service, and the Department would require New Mexico Airlines to continue to provide service until we could secure replacement service through a carrier-selection process.”

A call placed to Great Lakes on Monday was not returned.