MASON CITY — The Mason City Airport Commission on Friday afternoon approved recommending to the US Department of Transportation that they reject two bids from air carriers under the Essential Air Service program as the airport continues to work with current provider SkyWest on keeping their United Express service to the community.

The proposals came from Southern Airways, a Palm Beach Florida airline that recently purchased the airport’s previous air provider Air Choice One, and San Francisco-based Boutique Air. The commission recommended turning away the proposals, saying the subsidy rates in the contracts were not competitive enough and would jeopardize air service to Mason City.

Airport Manager David Sims says, “One of those is for airports such as Mason City, there’s a $200 per passenger subsidy cap. If the cost of the Essential Air Service program is more than $200 per passenger, we then risk being kicked out of the Essential Air Service program.”

Sims says when they looked at the proposals, they had to evaluate the cost of the subsidy versus the number of passengers. He says both proposals were at $198 per passenger, but they also assumed every flight would be almost full, something Sims says is not a realistic projection.  “Boutique was at a 98% load factor, which means the planes would have to be almost constantly full, all day, every day, which means the $198 is probably not a realistic number, because they would not fly that number of passengers each year. If the number of passengers drops, the cost divided among the passengers goes up, and we would be at risk of being above the subsidy cap and potentially risk losing service.” 

The commission recently agreed to work with SkyWest in the short term to reduce the number of flights serving Mason City as they are experiencing a pilot shortage which the company believes can be remedied by later this year. Sims says if that doesn’t work out, the commission can once again ask for proposals.  “We do have the ability down the road if SkyWest is not able to continue providing service, at a future date we can ask for a request for proposals at that time.” 

SkyWest in March had announced they were intending to pull service from Mason City and 29 other airports across the US, citing a pilot shortage. The US Department of Transportation responded by prohibiting the airline from terminating service until each airport could find a new carrier.