Durbin, Costello Announce New Carrier to Provide Air Servie to Downstate Communities

[WASHINGTON, DC] – Assistant Senate Majority Leader Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Congressman Jerry Costello (D-IL) today announced that two new air carriers will begin providing air service from three downstate Illinois communities to Lambert-St. Louis International Airport before the end of the year. Cape Air was awarded the Essential Air Service (EAS) contracts in Marion/Herrin and Quincy, while Air Choice One will serve Decatur. There will be no interruption in service during the transition to a new carrier.


“For too long, downstate communities have relied on air carriers that have failed to live up to their end of the bargain,” said Durbin. “I hope that this will change with the selection of these new carriers. This decision shows that the Department of Transportation is committed to providing these communities with safe, reliable and cost-effective air service. I commend the Department for working closely and quickly with Decatur, Marion/Herrin and Quincy and pledging to oversee this service and to make sure it has the greatest chances for success.”


“This announcement signals a new day for air service in these communities and I commend DOT for moving quickly on our request,” said Costello, Chairman of the House Aviation Subcommittee. “Reliable air service is a critical part of economic development and helps to maintain the quality of life in Southern Illinois and elsewhere around the state. The EAS program is a key part of this and I will continue to support it.”


In July, at the request of Durbin and Costello, the Department of Transportation (DOT) initiated the process of finding a new carrier for service to Decatur, Marion/Herrin and Quincy. The DOT currently holds a contract with Great Lakes Aviation which failed to negotiate a critical codeshare agreement with American Airlines – a key component of the communities’ support for Great Lakes Aviation’s application to become the EAS provider in those areas. According to Durbin and Costello, this has resulted in a drop in ridership that could potentially impact these airports federal funding.


Cape Air has agreed to enter into a two-year EAS contract with the DOT to provide service to Marion/Herrin and Quincy. Under the contract, they are required to provide thirty-six trips per week to St. Louis beginning on November 8, 2009. Air Choice One has agreed to enter into a two-year EAS contract with the DOT to provide service to Decatur. Under the contract, they are required to provide eighteen trips per week between Decatur and St. Louis beginning no later than December 15 and eighteen trips per week between Decatur and Chicago O’Hare International Airport no later than January 15. If Air Choice One fails to provide this service by the scheduled start date, Cape Air will be authorized to take over the routes. Cape Air is currently negotiating a codeshare agreement with American Airlines.


The EAS contracts to Decatur, Marion/Herrin and Quincy were formerly held by Regions Air which abruptly halted service on March 8th, 2007. Following the shutdown, the U.S. Department of Transportation entered into a contract with Great Lakes Airlines to resume passenger air service from downstate Illinois to St. Louis Lambert International Airport in November 2007.


The two year EAS contract signed by DOT and Great Lakes Aviation consisted of a $3.5 million per year federal subsidy to operate commercial service in Decatur, Quincy and Marion, Illinois. The EAS program was established by Congress in 1978 to ensure communities with commercial air service before airline deregulation could continue scheduled flights. Without the EAS program, many communities would not receive any scheduled commercial air service. Great Lakes will continue to provide service until a new contract can be awarded. Without EAS, many rural communities would have no commercial air service at all, and residents of smaller cities would have to travel significant distances for flights.