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Dickinson supports SkyWest bid at Ford Airport

A record 22,980 passengers boarded flights at Ford Airport in 2019. (Daily News file photo)

IRON MOUNTAIN — Dickinson County continues to support SkyWest Airlines as the Essential Air Service carrier at Ford Airport, endorsing Monday the airline’s proposal to provide subsidized flights for another three years.

SkyWest, a Utah-based regional airline, has been Dickinson County’s EAS carrier since December 2012. The current contract, which expires at the end of January, provides an annual federal subsidy of up to $3,275,512.

The new proposal covers five airports with a total annual subsidy of up to $15.28 million, including $3,868,146 for Ford Airport in Kingsford. The other airports are in Sault Ste. Marie; Rhinelander, Wis.; and Brainerd and International Falls, Minn.

Local service would continue with 13 weekly nonstop round trips to either Minneapolis or Detroit on Delta Connection 50-seat CRJ-200 jets. Assuming a load factor of 46%, the proposal works out to an effective subsidy of $2,895 per trip, or $127 per Ford Airport passenger, according to SkyWest.

With the county board voting unanimously to support SkyWest, Controller Brian Bousley noted the Federal Aviation Administration has the final say.

Traffic at Ford Airport has climbed during SkyWest’s tenure. A record 22,980 passengers boarded flights in 2019, although the facility hasn’t escaped the dramatic falloff in air travel nationwide due to COVID-19.

Bousley said there have been 7,388 boardings through August, which keeps the county in range of the 10,000 needed annually to qualify for $1 million in Airport Improvement Program funds.

Airports topping that threshold are classified as primary airports by the Federal Aviation Administration and Dickinson has qualified every year since 2013.

“We’re on track,” Bousley said.

All communities in the new proposal are compliant with the U.S. Department of Transportation’s passenger subsidy cap, SkyWest said in its application. The maximum EAS subsidy is $200 per passenger, except in Alaska and Hawaii, or unless the community is more than 210 miles from the nearest large or medium hub airport.

EAS is designed to fund a minimal level of scheduled air service to small communities that would otherwise be unprofitable for airlines to serve.

In other action, the board was updated on the air ambulance service housed at the airport.

Carrie Bartel-Petrin of AirMedCare Network said that after a recent merger Valley Med Flight will now be known as Guardian Flight. With airplanes at Kingsford and Houghton, and a helicopter in Escanaba, the service conducts about 60 flights per month, she said.

Insurance coverage varies, but Guardian Flight offers a membership program at a current rate of $65 annually per household that protects patients from paying anything out-of-pocket. Business and municipal memberships are also available, Bartel-Petrin said.

In response to a question from Commissioner Joe Stevens, she suggested local insurance agents might be approached for details on levels of coverage and terms. Guardian Flight can be contacted directly about the membership program.

“We’re grateful for the service you provide and thank you for picking Ford Airport,” Board Chairman Henry Wender said.

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