WEYERS CAVE – The Shenandoah Valley Regional Airport (SHD) could soon have a new airline carrier, if all goes according to plan.
The airport commission voted Thursday morning to recommend a proposal from Skywest Airlines to the U.S. Dept. of Transportation (DOT), SHD executive director Greg Campbell said. Skywest would replace ViaAir, which frustrated airport executives and travelers with its performance.
Skywest proposes to operate flights using a 50-seat jet and offer service to Washington Dulles International Airport and Chicago O’Hare International Airport, both of which are United hubs, Campbell said. The service would be operated as United Express and would be part of the United Airlines network.
Campbell highlighted Skywest’s “impressive, established track record,” noting that the airline has been named the most reliable operator in North America five times since 2007 of the jet they plan to use at SHD, the CRJ-200, of which they operate about 200 aircraft.
“This proven reliability coupled with their relationship with United would represent a significant change and improvement in service to the Valley,” Campbell said. “They are one of the most established premier airlines in the business.”
The DOT still has to approve the contract with Skywest though, as the airline would receive an annual subsidy to provide service to SHD through the Essential Air Service program, which is designed to maintain air service in rural communities.
They plan to continue to offer free parking at the airport and further details about what the Skywest service would look like at SHD will become available should the DOT award the contract, Campbell said. The minimum threshold is for 12 departures and 12 arrivals each per week, but there could be more.
“Once there is affirmative action by the DOT those details will be provided to us,” he said.
Before opting to recommend Skywest’s proposal, SHD considered three others, as well, two of which would have operated smaller turbo-prop aircraft and another using regional jet service, Campbell said. There were also hub options at Baltimore/Washington International Airport, Atlanta and Charlotte with various combinations and frequencies.
ViaAir was not among the airline carriers that submitted proposals. It had been threatened with replacement by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) due to complaints alleging poor service back in February, but was able to turn things around and enjoy a period of “exceptional” operational performance.
ViaAir then slipped again though after a few months of improvement, Campbell said, and the airport commission put in a request in July with the DOT to put the market back out to bid to try and line up a better airline to serve the Valley. The airline had only just replaced Silver Airways as the sole carrier for SHD in November 2016 after Silver Airways struggled with flight cancellations and other issues.
“Our community deserves better,” Campbell said in July.
The airport commission chairman will send a letter to the DOT now recommending that the contract for the airport be awarded to Skywest — “we are optimistic and hopeful the DOT will award this soon,” Campbell said.