Pocatello Regional Airport is facing the possibility of having no commercial passenger flights for an extended period of time because of the economic downturn triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Delta Air Lines petitioned the U.S. Department of Transportation this week for permission to indefinitely suspend its flights at nine U.S. airports including Pocatello Regional Airport, according to USA Today.
Pocatello’s airport is set to receive a $1 million federal grant to alleviate the economic hardships caused by the pandemic and this money could help matters.
And the city doesn’t plan to give up its Delta flights without a fight.
The city of Pocatello issued a statement on Thursday saying that it is going to send a letter to the U.S. Department of Transportation voicing opposition to Delta’s request to suspend its Pocatello Regional Airport flights. Delta is the only airline that has commercial passenger flights at Pocatello Regional Airport.
“These flights are an important hub for travel and commerce for all of East Idaho,” the city’s statement said.
Pocatello Regional Airport Manager Alan Evans said the airport would lose money in monthly rental revenue and landing and fuel fees from the loss of Delta’s flights, but he declined to come up with a dollar figure.
Without Delta’s flights, the airport would still provide service for a number of tenants, including the freight industry.
“It’s not all commercial (passenger flights),” Evans said. “This airport would still function. There’s a lot of things that still have to happen. I mean, commercial (passenger service) is a big part of it, granted.”
Evans declined to predict if Delta will be granted its DOT request to suspend its flights at Pocatello’s airport.
“I don’t know what will happen,” Evans said. “What I can say is a number of these requests that have been presented to the Department of Transportation have not been granted. So that’s what I know. So I’m hoping this one is obviously treated the same way.”
USA Today wrote that the airports in which Delta wants to suspend flights are within an hour drive of another airport where it offers service.
The other airports where Delta wants to suspend flights are in Melbourne, Florida; Brunswick, Georgia; Peoria, Illinois; Worcester, Massachusetts; Hilton Head, South Carolina; Flint, Michigan; Kalamazoo, Michigan; and Lansing, Michigan.
The city of Pocatello said it is in contact with SkyWest Airlines, which is the regional airline that provides Delta’s flights at Pocatello Regional Airport.
“Delta conducts their own flights at certain airports and at smaller airports they contract with another carrier to fulfill those flights for them and that’s what happens here (at Pocatello Regional Airport),” Evans said.
If Delta is granted permission by the U.S. Department of Transportation to suspend its flights at Pocatello Regional Airport, Evans said the airport would communicate with SkyWest about that airline continuing to provide the flights.
Prior to Delta’s announcement that it wants to suspend its flights at Pocatello Regional, the airport was already being hit hard economically as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.
Evans said there has been a substantial decrease in airline passengers using the airport and as a result SkyWest had already reduced its daily flights at Pocatello Regional for Delta from three to only one.
Evans said Pocatello Regional Airport is set to receive $1 million in federal assistance through the CARES Act that will help its plight. The money might be used to help fund the continuation of Delta/SkyWest’s operations at the airport so there is no suspension of passenger flights.
“We’ve been in talks with (airport tenants) and working on ways to keep them functioning,” Evans said. “We have a good working relationship with all our tenants here at the airport and working through their needs and assisting them where we can, for sure.”
Evans said he hopes passenger traffic at Pocatello Regional Airport will increase as Idaho Gov. Brad Little reopens the state. Little’s incremental four-step reopening process begins Friday and is planned to conclude at the end of June.
In the meantime, Evans says Pocatello Regional’s decreasing passenger numbers make it more difficult to present a case for additional Delta/SkyWest flights to be added at the airport.
In February, the airport was not picked for a U.S. Department of Transportation grant to add a direct passenger flight to Denver.
“We hate to see our traffic get reduced to where it is right now,” Evans said. “We have some concerns with that coming back and being as strong as it was prior to this pandemic. There’s a lot of unanswered questions obviously. There’s a lot of things we’re going to have to work through with the help of the airlines and so forth.”