Board backs flights to Denver

In what was reasoned as a choice between Albuquerque or Denver, the Clovis Civil Aviation Board chose the latter with a recommendation of Great Lakes Airlines to provide federally-subsidized air service at the Clovis Municipal Airport.

The recommendation will go forward to the Clovis City Commission on Thursday.

The recommendation passed on a 5-1 vote. Members Russ Backoff, City Commissioner Chris Bryant, Terry Moberly and Karl Spence voted yes. Ty Curtis cast the dissenting vote.

"In two years, if we feel it's not doing well," Moberly said, "that's a distinct point to seek out an alternate provider."

Great Lakes currently provides service from Clovis to Albuquerque Sunport, but served the city with an intent to drop the service due to a desire to leave Albuquerque.

That initiated a bid period for the EAS service, with two bidders — Great Lakes, offering a flight to Denver with a stop in Santa Fe, and Portland, Ore.-based SeaPort Airlines in what would have essentially resumed service from Clovis to Albuquerque.

Great Lakes' proposal is two round trips daily between Clovis to Denver International Airport, using Beechcraft 1900D aircraft. Great Lakes has a presence in Denver's "A" concourse with several other carriers.

The flights would include a stop in Santa Fe, where passengers could deplane or undergo security screening prior to continuing the trip to Denver.

The average fare would be $144.97 per ticket for a round trip.

Great Lakes had no representative at the meeting, while Vice President and Director of Operations Chuck Hill appeared on behalf of SeaPort.

SeaPort proposed 18 weekly round trips between Clovis and Albuquerque using a Cessna Caravan, with an average fare between $92 and $103 for a round trip and an introductory $49 price in the first 30 days of service.

Board members said they understood the importance of Albuquerque as a stop, but said the goal was to put people in the airplanes — and agreed with Great Lakes' suggestion that around 170 connections at Denver is a better way to do that than around 20 in Albuquerque.

"Albuquerque works for me, but I've got to think about Cannon (Air Force Base)," Phelps said. ""We've got some 5,300 to 5,400 (personnel) and we've got some obligation to make sure they've got air service. Albuquerque doesn't work for a majority of those folks."

Carlos Arias of Clovis said a better service to the community would include cheaper walk-up fares. Previous flights he'd taken on Great Lakes could be around double the cost of the advance ticket, and he knows of many Cannon spouses who would take advantage of an $80 weekend rate to take an impromptu trip to Santa Fe.

"The majority of guys who go, it's a pop-up trip," said Arias. "Historically, the rates have been pretty stout."

Hill said he couldn't speak for Great Lakes, but doubted SeaPort would go much more than $149 for walk-up tickets and stood by the airline's track record at the six other EAS communities it has served.

"Call our communities," Hill said. "What we say our airfares will be, we have stayed that way."

Spence said the prices of Great Lakes flights do drop when they're part of bigger trips due to agreements with larger airlines. While a flight to Denver may run around $145, that flight may become cheaper if it's the first connection on a flight to Philadelphia.

Members asked Hill how difficult it would be to get service to Dallas-Fort Worth International. Hill said it would be an outside possiblity, but would likely require another EAS community work with SeaPort as well.

The city's recommendation is due to the Department of Transportation on Oct. 11.

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