April 20 marked a milestone in American Eagle's plan to provide commercial air service in southwest Kansas.

Officials hail weekend bookings for Dallas flights
By Eric Swanson
Dodge City Daily Globe
     April 20 marked a milestone in American Eagle's plan to provide commercial air service in southwest Kansas.
     The American Airlines affiliate began offering twice-daily flights from Garden City to Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport on April 3. And on April 20, both flights from Garden to Dallas were booked at or over capacity for the first time since the service began.
     Booking figures for April 21 were not available earlier this week. But on April 22, one departing flight was full and one was nearly full.
     American Eagle uses two 44-seat regional jets for flights from Garden to Dallas. The fact that both flights were booked solid the weekend of April 20 does not necessarily mean that 44 passengers actually got on the plane, because they may have missed their flight or rescheduled for some reason.
     Nevertheless, Garden City officials saw the bookings as a sign that the service is growing more popular.
     "It indicates the community is getting accustomed to the service we provide," aviation director Rachelle Powell said in an interview earlier this week.
     She added that numerical reports for April's passenger count won't be available until mid-May.

Regional cooperation
     Funding for the Garden-to-Dallas service comes from the federal Essential Air Service program, which subsidizes commercial flights for small rural communities across the United States.
     The EAS program used to finance service from Garden and Dodge City to Denver, but that changed last year because local officials thought Congress might cut funding for the program.
     In hopes of preserving regional air service in southwest Kansas, officials in Dodge and Garden devised a plan that would give both cities the service they needed without requiring additional federal dollars.
     Under the plan, Dodge and Garden both supported American Eagle's plan to provide flights from Garden to Dallas. At the same time, the communities backed Great Lakes Aviation's proposal to continue offering flights from Dodge to Denver.
     Then in November, the federal government issued an order selecting American Eagle to provide 14 nonstop commercial flights from Garden to Dallas each week for two years. The order also tapped Great Lakes to continue offering flights from Dodge to Denver. Under this plan, Great Lakes provides 17 nonstop flights a week from Dodge to Denver.
     The Essential Air Service is covering the cost of both services. The service from Garden to Dallas is expected to cost $2.9 million a year, while the subsidy for flights from Dodge to Denver is about $7.48 million.
     The agreement between the two cities made it possible for American Eagle to provide service to Dallas, said Will Livesey, regional manager for American Airlines.
     "It was the southwest region of Kansas that came together and brought this route into the area," he said Monday. "And so now, there are options of not only Denver out of Dodge through Great Lakes, but now jet service with a major U.S. carrier to one of the biggest hubs in the U.S."

Meeting expectations
     The demand for weekend service from Garden to Denver is consistent with patterns across the industry, Livesey said.
     "Typical demand for these routes is during the middle of the week, there tends to be a little bit of a lull," he said. "But then by the end of the week, traffic picks up."
     Livesey predicted that demand will continue to rise — particularly in the summer, when families plan their vacations.
     He said the Garden-to-Dallas service is off to a good start, and he hopes it will do well enough to justify eliminating the federal subsidy.
"My goal is to take ourselves off that subsidy as quick as we can because, as we all know, this is a burgeoning community in Kansas," Livesey said. "So I believe we can get off that subsidy and be a viable, self-sufficient service."

     Reach Eric Swanson at (620) 408-9917 or email him at eric.swanson@dodgeglobe.com.