Big Sky, Not Great Lakes Flew With Federal Funds

A Sheridan County commissioner and the county airport manager said two of the persistent beliefs regarding commercial air service in Sheridan County are simply not true.

The beliefs are that Great Lakes received a federal subsidy to operate flights out of the Sheridan County Airport, and that the county lost the federal “essential air service” designation, “E A S” for short, by bringing Big Sky airlines into service here.

In fact, according to County Commissioner Steve Maier and Airport Manager John Stopka in a recent interview with Sheridan Media reporter Pat Blair, Great Lakes never received a federal subsidy, but Big Sky did. The airport manager said Great Lakes applied for E A S funding around 2004, and that opened a bidding process with the U.S. Department of Transportation. He said once an airline seeks E A S funding to serve an airport, any other airline can bid for the subsidy.

He said in Sheridan County's case, Big Sky's bid for a subsidy came in about half a million dollars less than what Great Lakes asked. Maier said the county didn't bring Big Sky into the airport here but, rather, the airline came in because the federal transportation office awarded the E A S bid to the company.

Big Sky operated on federal subsidy for two years, according to the commissioner and airport manager. Great Lakes returned to Sheridan in 2007 and didn't apply again for federal funding. In 2012, Congress revised the essential air service regulations with an amendment that prohibited airline from seeking essential air services funds for an airport where commercial flights weren't subsidized in 2010.

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