FINDING the next Essential Air Service provider at Quincy Regional Airport has been at the forefront of business and economic development concerns in recent months, and with good reason.
While the current provider, SkyWest, has opened Chicago's O'Hare International Airport to local travelers with its 50-passenger jets, an increasing number of travelers has found SkyWest's service lacking reliability. Canceled flights, coupled with the fact the airline only offers at most two flights daily between Quincy and Chicago, have left an uncomfortably high number of passengers seeking overnight accommodations or rental cars to make the drive home late at night.
It's true that the number of enplanements at Quincy Regional has increased over the past two years, but so has the number of would-be passengers clamoring for air service to St. Louis, which previously was provided at the airport by Cape Air.
Four airlines bid to become the airport's next EAS provider starting next year, with three, including Cape Air, offering plans that included flights to both Chicago and St. Louis. SkyWest's bid included only service to Chicago.
After a process that including public vetting of proposals and town hall meetings with airline officials, the city's Aeronautics Committee on Wednesday chose Cape Air to be the airport's EAS provider, following the recommendation of Mayor Kyle Moore and Quincy Regional Airport Director Sandra Shore.
We think this is the best decision for all involved, making sense on multiple levels.
First, the Cape Air plan gives passengers more options, with three flights planned daily to each Chicago and St. Louis on new Tecnam P2012 nine-passenger planes. Flights to both cities will give travelers the option of flying to a different city in the event of inclement weather or other delays in the destination city.
Second, Cape Air has gone to great length to ensure previous concerns about its service have been alleviated. The airline has guaranteed that each flight will feature two pilots and that flight crews will permanently be based in Quincy. Several large employers in Quincy told The Herald-Whig they had stopped using Cape Air previously because of single-pilot flights.
And third, it just makes economic sense. The smaller planes mean the city will be off the hook for more than $100,000 in firefighter expenses, and Cape Air's proposal calls for less money in federal subsidies than SkyWest. We also believe having multiple destinations available means more people will use the airport, putting it on course for the 10,000-enplanement mark that would automatically qualify for the airport for $1 million in annual federal funding.
Having commercial air service in Quincy is vital to the city's economic growth. Large employers need air service to keep their businesses connected to global markets, as well as to bring in potential employees they are trying to recruit.
Ultimately, of course, air service in Quincy will depend on those who use the airport.
Mayor Moore recognizes that. "People need to vote with their pocketbooks," he said.
He is right. Now will be the time for those who have called for flights to St. Louis to actually buy tickets. Otherwise, in two years the city might once again find itself in the position of only having one flight destination, but we hope that isn't the case.
In the meantime, though, we hope the U.S. Department of Transportation approves the Aeronautic Committee's recommendation and quickly approves Cape Air as the EAS provider at Quincy Regional Airport.