Mason City Airport Commission recommends keeping SkyWest commercial air service

MASON CITY — The Mason City Airport Commission has made a recommendation to keep the same airline through a new contract through the US Department of Transportation’s Essential Air Service program.

SkyWest Airlines has proposed to continue the current service for the next three years. Commissioners were also presented with a proposal from Southern Airways, the carrier that purchased and absorbed the airport’s former carrier Air Choice One.

Airport manager David Sims says there’s no advantage to change from SkyWest to Southern.  “In my humble opinion, I don’t believe so. Right now, we have 50-seat jet service on a branded carrier, in other words, it has United Airlines on the airplane, with a direct code share with United Airlines, which brings many benefits to the service. Southern Airways is an independent carrier. They do have inter-line agreements, but those inter-line agreements do make service more expensive, and aren’t quite as clear cut as a branded code share as Skywest has with United.”

Southern had offered four daily flights to Chicago on eight-seat single engine planes, which Sims says some people don’t like to travel on.  “I know many in the community are not comfortable on the smaller aircraft. Many corporations don’t allow business travel on small, single-engine airplanes, so that impacts the corporate travel that we see.”

Joan Platz was the lone commissioner to vote against recommending SkyWest. Her concern was that the airport didn’t need 50-seat jets. Sims disagreed.  Platz said a 50-passenger plane was not of importance to serve Mason City. Sims replied, “When we were untagged and we had a prime schedule that was attracting the most travelers, we were doing over a thousand passengers a month, and we were up frequently putting 30 to 40, 45 people on a flight. It was during COVID, SkyWest did not start until after COVID. It was three years ago, and when they first started service before the tagged flying, we were seeing much higher passenger numbers.”

The recommendation now goes to the USDOT, which will make the final decision on a contract for air service to Mason City.