Future of airline service in Pierre, Watertown up in the air

PIERRE, S.D. (DAKOTA RADIO GROUP) - The future of airline service for Pierre and Watertown may be up in the air if the current provider does not come up with an acceptable plan to increase service to both communities.

Pierre Mayor Steve Harding tells Dakota Radio Group that California Pacific Airlines has until Jan. 29 to send the U.S. Department of Transportation the company’s plan.

"If that's not acceptable or if they can't just flat do it, then we are going to have to rebid the Essential Air Service contract, which could take 30 to 60 days," he said. "We're at the mercy of the Essential Air Service contract and U.S. Department of Transportation. Just let the public know that both cities are doing all we can to keep rural airline service, but certainly there's concerns that we need to get addressed."

Harding said both he and Watertown Mayor Sarah Caron have talked with California Pacific Airline officials.

"The bottom line is we want safe, dependable air service for both Watertown and Pierre," he said. "We continue to work with California Pacific and the U.S. Department of Transportation and to iron out all of these difficulties we've had. They've got until January 29 to respond to our letters that we sent to them, and if that does not come together at that time, then we can ask the DOT to cancel the Essential Air Service contract and rebid for proposals. We don't want to do that, we hope we can work these things out, but that's the bottom line. That will happen if we can't get these things ironed out."

Harding said because the Essential Air Service contract is between California Pacific Airlines and the USDOT, there is little either city can do right now.

"All we can do is contact the U.S. Department of Transportation and California Pacific that we are not happy with the service, that we do have some concerns," he said.

In December, California Pacific Airlines, formerly known as Aerodynamics Incorporated or ADI, canceled more than 25 percent of its EAS flights in South Dakota.