Feds rebid Macon passenger flights

New carrier sought after Sun Air withdrawal

jgaines@macon.comJanuary 15, 2013 

Federal transportation officials are once again taking bids for passenger service at Middle Georgia Regional Airport in the wake of Sun Air International’s withdrawal from its plan to offer flights.

A Jan. 4 announcement from Todd Homan, director of the Office of Aviation Analysis, says the U.S. Department of Transportation will consider proposals for regular flights with or without the federal Essential Air Service subsidy.

“Air carriers should file their proposals no later than January 31, 2013,” he wrote.

The announcement apparently went to more than three dozen small carriers, mostly in Alaska.

In September, Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based Sun Air won a two-year contract to provide passenger flights between Middle Georgia Regional Airport and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, with an annual subsidy of $1.95 million.

It was supposed to start Dec. 1, but in late November, Sun Air admitted it wasn’t ready, meaning current carrier GeorgiaSkies was required to continue the flights it has provided since 2008.

Then on Dec. 20, Sun Air President David Hackett sent a message to Dennis DeVany, chief of the federal Essential Air Service program, withdrawing Sun Air’s bid altogether.

“Sun Air explained that it is undergoing an aggressive expansion, experiencing challenges in completing pilot recruiting and training, and establishing maintenance bases in Texas, Maryland, and Pennsylvania has proven more difficult than anticipated,” Homan wrote.

Use of passenger flights at Middle Georgia Regional Airport has dropped steeply from the days when an affiliate of Delta Air Lines held the contract. An appendix to the latest request for bids shows passenger numbers falling from 2,499 in 2010 to 1,988 in 2011, and down to just 1,389 in 2012.

Acknowledging that, federal officials are asking for a carrier to provide two round-trip flights to Atlanta per day. GeorgiaSkies and Sun Air had provided or offered four flights on weekdays and two per day on weekends.

Unless passenger numbers go up, Homan warns, Macon could lose access to the federal subsidy altogether. A new law says Macon has to have an average of 10 passengers a day to remain eligible. GeorgiaSkies averaged fewer than three per day in 2012.

To contact writer Jim Gaines call 744-4489.

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