Airport board hopes for air service bids
Great Lakes Airlines announced Monday it is suspending service at Ironwood and five other airports effective Feb. 1, citing a lack of pilots.
The airport board is now awaiting opening of bids to provide essential air service at the airport that are due by Feb. 5.
Airport manager Mike Harma said Tuesday if an airline bids on providing service to Ironwood, it may take up to 90 days for it to get on board before passengers can again board airplanes.
"That's not good, that lag period," airport board member George Nasi, of Hurley, said at the special Tuesday meeting. He said people will get into the habit of driving to other airports.
Board members aren't sure if they'll receive any essential air service two-year bids at all.
Great Lakes bid around $3 million to provide service to Ironwood and Harma said the airlines had been performing well until it experienced a pilot shortage. The airlines that once had 300 pilots is down to 96, blaming the decrease on new federal rules regarding pilot hours.
Harma said the message he received from Great Lakes was, "We'd rather give no service at all than provide crappy service."
Airport board members said they wished they would have received at least a couple months advance notice fom the airlines so they could prepare for the future.
Harma said he has contacted Sky West, Delta, Seaport and other airlines, but none are tipping their hats as to whether they'd bid on the EAS for Ironwood.
It's possible an airline with a nine-passenger plane might submit a bid.
Board members said recent passenger numbers were steady.
Joe Bonovetz, of Bessemer, a veteran of the board, noted early morning flights out of Ironwood and late evening return flights were the most popular in the past. He added the Minneapolis hub that was available through Great Lakes is more popular than Milwaukee.
Gogebic County Prosecutor Dick Adams, who also acts as county corporation counsel, said the airport board was in a similar situation about six years ago, when the issue was resolved through assistance of lawmakers, but he said, "It took awhile."
Adams said, "The million-dollar question is, 'Do we get any bids at all?'"
Harma said Great Lakes had four employees at the Gogebic-Iron airport and there are seven Transportation Security Administration employees, but not all of the workers were full-time. He said the TSA employees will remain at the airport for now, pending the future of the commercial flights.
The airport board meets next on Feb. 10, when it will be able to review the airlines' bids, if any are received.
Harma said he was told by federal officials to "be ready to move with whatever bid is received."