POCATELLO — As the city begins the process to prepare a new master plan for the Pocatello Regional Airport, a separate effort has begun to petition SkyWest Airlines to refrain from cutting a pair of daily flights come Nov. 2.
Pocatello announced its plans to update the airport master plan, which is expected to take between 18 and 24 months, in a Tuesday press release. The process will begin with a kickoff meeting from 6 to 8 p.m. on Tuesday in the council chambers at City Hall. A recording of the meeting will be available on the airport’s iflypocatello.com website a short time afterward.
According to Airport Manager Alan Evans, an airport master plan is a comprehensive study of the infrastructure of an airport and outlines the immediate and long-term development needs to safely meet future demand. The end result of the process will be a well-defined roadmap for the next 20 years of airfield and terminal infrastructure needs for the airport, Evans said.
“An airport master plan is a document that is required by the Federal Aviation Administration about every 10 to 12 years and our last one was completed in 2012,” Evans said. “We reached out to a firm — Toothman Orton, or T-O, Engineering out of Boise — who will work with us over the next year or so to look at everything. This has nothing to do with the current issues that we have with flight reductions, this is really just a facilities master plan that looks at the existing conditions of our airport and what needs to be upgraded, where could we grow businesses and what kinds of land uses we want out there.”
Evans said the development of the master plan is a process that also affords the local community an opportunity to provide input that helps guide the future of the airport.
“Feedback is welcomed and encouraged,” Evans said.
The airport will hold several public meetings during the update process, and written comments will be accepted both in person and on the airport’s website.
Separately, Idaho State University’s College of Business is facilitating a process to unify local business leaders and public officials to address the recently cancelled SkyWest flights and explain to the airline company that the Pocatello airport is a monumental economic development asset for the region, says Dan Cravens, a clinical assistant professor of management for the ISU College of Business and director of Bengal Solutions Consulting.
The Idaho State Journal last week announced that SkyWest Airlines — a regional airline based in St. George, Utah that contracts its services with major airlines including Delta, United, American and Alaska — plans to cut a pair of daily flights from the Pocatello Regional Airport’s schedule.
Evans said the airline is looking to cut costs during its slower winter months. The remaining daily flight will arrive at the airport at 12:33 p.m. and the single daily departure to Salt Lake City will leave at 1:15 p.m., Evans said.
Neil Tocher, a professor and chair of the department of marketing and management for ISU’s College of Business, started a petition on change.org Monday requesting SkyWest reconsider its decision to cut two of the three round-trip flights from Pocatello to Salt Lake City every day. The petition has garnered nearly 550 signatures since it was created.
“We’re certainly doing everything we can,” Tocher said. “When you look at this from a practical perspective of the effect on the Pocatello economy, if you go down to a 1:15 p.m. flight and that’s the only departure that we have, that is probably a recipe for the devastation of the Pocatello airport.”
Tocher said that anybody who flies out of the West knows they have to leave one of these regional airports early and will arrive late if traveling anywhere of distance.
“It’s likely that the only people who will regularly fly out of Pocatello at 1:15 in the afternoon are retired people headed to California for a golf weekend.”
Tocher said the ISU College of Business is aware of the economic limitations that SkyWest and most U.S. airline companies are facing amid the COVID-19 pandemic, but what’s of more concern to him are the implications of these cuts to the local economy.
“We are very interested in collaborating with business, organization leaders and SkyWest to come up with a viable alternative, because this could easily lead to a situation where SkyWest says they cut us down to one and when that afternoon flight is not used enough it will warrant consideration that they cut services altogether,” Tocher said.
Tocher said the lack of a viable Pocatello airport could make the city unattractive or dwindle chances to secure future businesses or organizations comparable to those like Frigitek, Amy’s Kitchen or the FBI Data Center.
Evans said he was unaware of the efforts from the ISU College of Business or the petition to SkyWest, but said he was supportive of their efforts and encouraged anyone contemplating recent travel to understand all the costs of flying elsewhere and if it’s close, make the decision to fly out of Pocatello, especially between now and the time the flights are set to be cut on Nov. 2.
Pocatello Mayor Brian Blad also said he was unaware of the petition and ISU College of Business efforts, but he is planning on meeting with SkyWest officials next week.
“I have a meeting with SkyWest next week to see what we can do about these lost flights locally,” Blad said. “Regardless of any petition or impact study, the reality is SkyWest knows there are a great deal of people that are choosing to fly out of Salt Lake City instead of Pocatello. We are losing 60 percent of the people that are flying out of Salt Lake City. People are not doing the math to see whether it costs them more or less to choose Pocatello.”
Blad continued, “If we were only losing 40 percent it would be very difficult for them to pull the flights out, but business travel is still about 30 percent of what it was pre-COVID-19.”
At the very least, Blad wants to encourage SkyWest to change the arrival and departure time of the single flight left on the schedule come Nov. 2, seeking an early morning departure time and a late-night arrival.
Blad echoed Evans’ sentiment in asking local residents to both fly out of Pocatello in the next coming weeks when possible and also encouraged people to contact SkyWest and explain how this change will affect them.
“If SkyWest sees a lot of action from Pocatello, it’s possible they will reconsider,” Blad said. “It’s a slim chance but it’s always a chance. It’s just a mess, but I’ve had a few people reach out to me and see what they can do to help and I encourage them to contact SkyWest before Nov. 1, and if there is anything I can do to try and change their minds next week, then I will do it.”