- Associated Press - Friday, June 3, 2016

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) - The U.S. Department of Transportation has awarded contracts to Aerodynamics Inc. to provide federally subsidized air service to Pierre and Watertown.

Officials in both cities had recommended the carrier. Great Lakes Airlines has been serving the two cities, but local officials have become unhappy with the service.

Great Lakes maintains that problems with delayed and canceled flights were the result of a pilot shortage caused by more stringent federal regulations.

The Essential Air Service program provides subsidies to small airlines so they can maintain flights in rural communities. Aerodynamics will fly 12 round-trip flights weekly from Watertown to Denver, stopping in Pierre, with 50-passenger jets.

The two-year federal contract runs from this August through July 2018. It’s not known exactly when Aerodynamics service will start, but Pierre Mayor Laurie Gill told the Capital Journal (https://bit.ly/1U1Vii2 ) that she expects it to be by September.

“We have a huge hunting season here, and they know that,” she said.

Watertown has one more hurdle to overcome. The Department of Transportation recently listed the city as one of 12 in the country fated to lose EAS eligibility because the subsidy level there has surpassed $200 per passenger. Federal rules say any EAS community within 210 miles of a major hub airport must maintain a subsidy level below that mark.

Mayor Steve Thorson said he is confident Watertown officials can show that the city’s center is actually 4 miles farther west than under the government’s measurement to Minneapolis. That will put it outside the 210-mile limit, meaning the EAS subsidy trigger to worry about is $1,000 per passenger.


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