Montana Standard: Decision expected in days on Butte’s airline service

A decision on future service for Butte’s Bert Mooney Airport is expected this week as two companies compete to land a two-year contract backed by federal subsidies.

SkyWest and Gulfstream airlines each submitted proposals to the Department of Transportation to serve Bert Mooney. SkyWest’s proposal calls for 14 roundtrips per week between Butte and Salt Lake City, costing just over $800,000 annually. Gulfstream would fly 36 to 48 times per week between Butte and Billings via smaller aircraft at a cost of $2.5 million to $2.9 million annually. Those subsidies would come from the federal Essential Air Service program.

The deadline for choosing an airline is Feb. 10 but U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, chairman of the Essential Air Service Caucus, is pressing the Department of Transportation to make it sooner.

“Butte is making important strides forward for Montana jobs and we need to make sure small businesses and families in the region have certainty when it comes to air travel,” said Baucus in a press release. Baucus said the process has dragged on too long.

Yet it was long-term planning from Montana’s other U.S. senator, Jon Tester, that allowed new communities to qualify for the EAS program, something that was not in the original language of the latest bill. According to the senator’s office, it was Tester who worked to make the EAS program available for communities that had recently been notified that an airline intended to terminate the airport’s sole service.

Butte is one city that met those qualifications. After the Senate bill became public, the U.S. House of Representatives followed suit and added similar language to their bill, according to Tester’s staff.

The decision on which airline will be chosen to provide Butte service is expected in the next few days, according to both senators’ offices.

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