SIOUX CITY | American Airlines will keep flying subsidized routes between Sioux City and Chicago for at least two more years.
The U.S. Department of Transportation recently awarded American a two-year extension of its Essential Air Service contract at Sioux Gateway. American, currently the airport’s lone carrier, beat out the only other bidder, United Airlines.
Both airlines proposed to offer at least 13 flights per week to Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport. The EAS is a federal program that ensures air service to small, rural airports.
In an order posted on its website, the DOT cited American’s performance during its first two years in Sioux City and community support for the carrier. The determining factor, the federal agency said, was American’s bid, which came in nearly $1.6 million less than United’s over the life of the contract.
“At Sioux City, we are confident that either carrier would provide excellent service, ” the DOT said in the order, signed by Susan Kurland, assistant secretary for aviation and international affairs. “The civic officials did not endorse one carrier over the other. As the airport trustees indicated, the difference in requested subsidy is decisional here, and we will, therefore, reselect American.”
Local officials repeatedly praised American’s performance, but also were pleased that United showed interest in returning to the Sioux City market after nearly a two-decade absence.
American, whose current EAS contract runs through April 30, agreed to ut its annual federal payout nearly in half, from $1.51 million to $611,334. United proposed a subsidy of is $1.41 million per year.
American Eagle, a regional carrier for the Fort Worth, Texas-based carrier, started serving Sioux Gateway on April 3, 2012, replacing longtime carrier Delta Air Lines. Delta, which flew daily connecting routes to Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, also applied for the EAS contract.
During its first two years at Sioux Gateway, American’s 50-seat regional jets have been about 80 percent full on average. Local officials said the high load factors are matching results of earlier studies that showed Chicago as the top destination for Siouxland leisure and business travelers.
In the middle of the EAS selection process, Frontier Airlines announced it would restart service to Sioux Gateway without federal subsidies. Frontier is scheduled to offering three flights per week to Denver, beginning June 12.
The DOT said Frontier’s entrance would have no effect on the EAS program in Sioux City.