Monday, June 09, 2008

Joplin Airport seeking new bids for service

Island Air, which was scheduled to begin providing service to Joplin July 1, has pulled out of the agreement, according to a news release from the city of Joplin. Bids are being sought for a replacement service. The news release follows:

The City of Joplin has received notice from Island Air that it is relinquishing the recently awarded contract to provide Essential Air Service for Joplin. A letter dated June 6, 2008 from the airline, noted the recent change for air service status in the Hawaii market, as well as several personnel departures led to this action.

Steve Stockam, Manager of the Joplin Regional Airport, has been in contact with the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) for the status of air service in Joplin.
According to Stockam, the DOT will be sending out an urgent Request For Proposal (RFP) for air service in Joplin. The DOT has shortened the usual EAS bid process because of the immediate situation in Joplin, asking for air carriers to provide their bid within 14-days. The public will have three days to provide their comments. Also during this period, the City of Joplin will submit their recommendation for which bid proposal provides the service that best meets the community’s needs. It is anticipated that the DOT will award the bid by late June.

Joplin officials were working closely with Island Air toward a July 1 start date. In moving toward this goal, Island Air would have provided a transition from Joplin’s current EAS provider Mesa’s (Midwest Air) departure of June 30. Typically, EAS providers are under contract to continue to provide air service until the next carrier is in place, but in May of this year, Mesa announced its liquidation as of June 30, which now causes an interruption Joplin’s air service for a period of time. Mesa shut down its operations because of financial difficulties.

“Because of MESA’s decision to liquidate, Joplin will suffer the consequence,” said Stockam. “This interruption in service should be brief. Air service will resume as soon as the new carrier is able to get its operations initiated in Joplin. It is our hope and our goal to provide service as quickly as possible.”

Island Air has also relinquished its bid from three other communities including Harrison and Hot Springs, Ark., and Grand Island, Neb. Their proposal for Joplin air service included three flights a day to Kansas city for an annual subsidy of $1,276,818.

Although not Joplin’s first choice, city officials understood the DOT’s award.

“We supported the DOT for its intention to improve the program with the introduction of a new carrier,” said Stockam. “In our recommendations we noted our reluctance with Island Air because of their limited structure and inexperience of EAS service to Kansas City.”

Joplin’s initial choice was Northwest Airlines because the City recognized the significance of name branding, strong reputation of providing quality service, and an opportunity for stable and long term growth. During the last EAS bid process, Joplin received three bids, and Stockam anticipates strong support from carriers during this process.

Stockam also notes the continued support of the Airport’s customers and encourages them to remain optimistic during this time.

“We are in a transition period,” he said. “Joplin has always provided quality air service, and we will continue to do so in the very near future.”

Customers who have tickets with Island Air should contact the airline at 1-800-652-6541 to re-book their flight. Others needing to contact Mesa should call 1-800-MESA-AIR.

An Island Air official explained the situation in an article posted today on the Pacific Business Journal website:

Island Air chief operating officer Les Murashige said the airline had submitted its bid for the service in early March and was awarded in May. During that time, Aloha Airlines and ATA Airlines both shutdown their passenger operations. Finding and searching for personnel and the rising costs of fuel were major considerations for the Midwest operation, Murashige said.

"After careful analysis, we have concluded that a Midwest startup date of mid-September is unrealistic." Murashige said. "Since time is of the essence for the Midwest communities, it is with a heavy heart that island Air relinquishes the awarded EAS contract so that it may be redirected and awarded to an airline that can commence service within their desired time frame. Island Air hopes to have other opportunities to bid for an EAS contract but for now, we will focus on our local market.

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