Federal DOT declines to hear EAS rebid for Pierre, Watertown airports

The Essential Air Service contract that ties both the Watertown and Pierre airport’s together will not be re-bid, despite involvement from state and local officials.
Despite several months of push and pull from both Pierre and Watertown, the federal DOT has declined to re-open the bidding process for the EAS contract.
Published: Oct. 8, 2021 at 9:15 AM CDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

PIERRE, S.D. - The Federal Department of Transportation (DOT) denied Pierre and Watertown’s request for a re-bid on the “Essential Air Service” contracts to the city.

The DOT said that the reason for the declination was in large part because both airlines in contention, Skywest and Denver Air, had comparably low cancellation rates. However, Denver Air’s offered save federal taxpayers $7.7 million dollars more.

“This did not come as any surprise this was just the Federal DOT reaffirming their initial decision,” Jamie Huizenga explained. Huizenga is the Pierre City Commissioner tasked with oversight of the airport. “We worked with our federal congressional delegation and Governor Noem to try and get a rebid, but the way it went, that is obviously not going to happen at this point.”

All in all, Skywest’s bid was 81% higher than Denver Air’s.

“We wish it would have come sooner so there wasn’t so much limbo for the community and the airlines,” said Jon Coleman, Director of Business Development for Denver Air. “But we are very humbled that the DOT saw it fit to reaffirm their original ruling.”

For now, Skywest has remained in the cities without the federal subsidy that comes from the EAS contract, operating at a loss to do so. Even with the busiest time of the year for flying in central South Dakota just weeks away, it remains to be seen how long SkyWest will stick around.

Since both airlines have began operating out of Pierre jointly in July, the number of Skywest passengers has started to dip, while Denver Air’s numbers were up last month.

“The most important thing from whoever our airlines are, is reliability,” Huizenga said. “If your airline is supposed to leave at a certain time, we want to make sure it leaves at that time.”

The next re-bid period for both the Pierre and Watertown airports will start in August of 2022.

Copyright 2021 Gray Television. All rights reserved.