Written by Devon Boen
Silver Airways, the airline that provides Essential Air Service throughout northeast Montana, has decided not to bid on another two-year contract.
Essential Air Service is a government program that subsidizes airline services to rural communities that wouldn’t have them otherwise after the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978. The act made it possible for airlines to choose the areas they would service and the fares they would charge. This left many rural communities without an airline since the small areas likely wouldn’t generate a profit for major airlines.
Silver Airways has provided air service to Lewistown, Miles City, Glasgow, Wolf Point, Glendive, Havre and Sidney since February 2011.
Wolf Point public works director Rick Isle said Lewistown and Miles City were no longer eligible for EAS because each community’s average subsidy per passenger per flight exceeded the maximum $1,000. Because those two cities are no longer a part of the program, Silver Airways said the contract would not be profitable for them.
Isle said the EAS taskforce, a group of representatives from the serviced communities, will meet in Billings July 25 to review new bids and select one. He said the selected bid will then go back to the U.S. Department of Transportation for approval.
In the past, eastern Montana has gone without Essential Air Service, most recently from 2008 to 2009 after Big Sky Airlines stopped flying into the area. Isle said Silver is required to continue providing service to the area unless it is clear the task force is not actively looking for a new provider.
Isle was asked how another airline would make a profit if Silver wouldn’t. He said it was undetermined how that would work and the new gap might be reflected in higher bids, but there was no way of knowing until the bids were reviewed.
Silver Airlines’ official contract expires Sept. 27 and Isle said when the newly selected airline will start providing service depends on which company