WATERTOWN, S.D. — The U.S. Department of Transportation has said it will no longer subsidize flights at Watertown, although the city’s mayor thinks he can convince federal officials to change their mind.
The Essential Air Service subsidy program aims to maintain flights in smaller, rural communities. In June, the Transportation Department awarded contracts to Aerodynamics Inc. to provide service from Denver to Pierre and Watertown under the program. Flights began in mid-August.
Watertown was put on notice that its inclusion was in jeopardy because the subsidy level in the city surpassed $200 per passenger. Federal rules say any EAS community within 210 miles of a major hub airport must maintain a subsidy level below that mark, and the Transportation Department says Watertown is 207 miles from the Minneapolis airport.
“We expected this to come,” Watertown Mayor Steve Thorson told the Capital Journal (http://bit.ly/2bTGpfR ).
Thorson maintains the center of the city of 22,000 people is actually 4 miles farther west than under the government’s measurement. That would put it outside the 210-mile limit and push the EAS subsidy to $1,000 per passenger.
The city has an airline consultant who will draft a letter to the Transportation Department and the city expects to get a waiver, Thorson said.
About 15 passengers are boarding each flight in Watertown. The good passenger response should help with the waiver request, Aerodynamics spokesman Ryan DiVita said.
“(Aerodynamics) has no plans to alter its current schedule and feels strongly that Watertown service will continue and flourish over the term of its contract,” he said.
Watertown has about a month to apply for the waiver. If it isn’t granted, subsidized flights could stop by the end of the year.
Information from: Pierre Capital Journal, http://www.capjournal.com