When air service isn’t ‘essential’

There are many reasons why regional air carriers are in such financial trouble. One fourth of them are in bankruptcy with yesterday’s filing by Pinnacle Airlines.

Labor contracts, bloated management and high energy prices are most often cited. But many carriers also fly to places few people want to go.

In the case of Pierre, South Dakota and Great Lakes Airlines, one of those places apparently is Minneapolis.

The airline added a second flight from Pierre to the Twin Cities this week and the 6 a.m. flight took off on time yesterday and arrived on schedule. With no passengers.

Great Lakes has taken over air service in several markets from which Delta bolted. In one of those communities, Jamestown, N.D., the first thing many people noticed was a much higher ticket price.

Delta, with flights operated by Mesaba and Pinnacle, left because it couldn’t make money in smaller markets where its planes flew only half full. That included markets in Minnesota such as Thief River Falls and Bemidji.

For years, airlines serving Pierre, for example, got money from the federal government under the Essential Air Service program. Now, the airlines serving the airport are unsubsidized. And, judging from the Monday 6 a.m. flight, not very essential.

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