Big Sky plans to end air service to northern New York

PLATTSBURGH Big Sky Airlines will cease operations throughout the Northeast, with Plattsburgh International Airport among the airports affected. The announcement, made last week, stated Delta connection air service offered on the east coast by the Billings, Mont. carrier will end midnight Jan. 7. In a press release issued by the company, Big Sky president Fred de Leeuw cited several reasons for the decision. Our eastern operations were dramatically affected by a combination of unusually bad weather, disappointing revenue and record high fuel prices, stated Mr. de Leeuw. We have great people who have worked extraordinarily hard, but that factor could not overcome the challenges we faced, and we no longer believe that we can reach sustained profitability. The decision will affect not only Plattsburgh International, but airports in Watertown, Massena, Ogdensburg and Saranac Lake as well. The five airports are part of the Federal Aviation Administration Essential Air Service Program, which compensates carriers such as Big Sky for providing commercial air service to rural areas. According to the announcement, the jobs of approximately 140 Big Sky employees located in Watertown; Boston, Mass.; and Covington, Ky. will be eliminated. The company has engaged a broker to assist in the sale of the aircraft used in the eastern operations, the press release further stated. Following the announcement, the U.S. Department of Transportation issued an emergency order requiring Big Sky to continue its local air service for 90 days. An emergency request for proposals was issued by the federal Department of Transportation to find replacement services for Plattsburgh International and the other affected airports. The RFPs are due Jan. 11. In the meantime, the U.S. Department of Transportation has plans to see Big Sky stays in operation until the replacement service begins. The action has received the support of Congressman John M. McHugh, R-Pierrepont Manor who immediately called on the U.S. Department of Transportation to provide an appropriate course of action to ensure continued air service to the North Country. Im very disappointed in Big Skys decision to abandon service to Northern New York, Rep. McHugh said in a prepared statement. A strong and reliable transportation industry provides significant economic benefits to a community. I am prepared to pursue any and all appropriate actions to ensure that we maintain scheduled, commercial air service to the North Country. I will work with the Department of Transportation and local officials to do everything possible to improve this difficult situation. Plattsburgh Town Supervisor Bernard C. Bassett said the announcement came as no surprise to him, as he had received a number of complaints from his constituents regarding cancellations and poor communication from the carrier regarding flight information since the service was offered locally Oct. 31. The supervisor stated he also received a very articulate letter from a doctor in Boston who was extremely disappointed with Big Skys service and wrote he would never fly out of Plattsburgh again. The concern I shared with the legislators is with that reputation building for that service at the start of the airport, it could be damaging to its future, said Mr. Bassett. Given what I knew of the service, when I saw Big Sky was no longer going to offer their service here, I was pleased. Its very unfortunate especially for those 140 jobs that will be lost, but for the Plattsburgh airport to have a carrier with that level of quality is not acceptable, Mr. Bassett further explained. Allegiant Air is doing extremely well and I think we can be confident the airport will continue to grow. Well get through this setback. The Big Sky announcement comes just weeks after Allegiant Air, the only other commercial air service offered by Plattsburgh International, announced it was adding a new nonstop service to Orlando, Fla., and doubling its Fort Lauderdale service from two to four flights a week.

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