THIEF RIVER FALLS — The U.S. Department of Transportation is accepting bids for Essential Air Service at Thief River Falls Airport and two carriers already are showing interest.
The DOT issued an order requesting proposals for air carriers interested in providing Essential Air Service from Thief River Falls Airport either to Minneapolis-St. Paul International airport or another regional hub airport. That order was issued Thursday, Oct. 10.
In the days since, Thief River Falls Airport Manager Joe Hedrick said he has been contacted by two carriers interested in submitting bids for the next EAS contract at that airport. The window for submitting bids to the U.S. DOT closes Nov. 12. Bids will be made public shortly after that date.
The current provider of EAS services in Thief River Falls is Boutique Air, which has served the city since July of 2016. The airline offers cheap — often for as low as $120 round-trip — daily flights to Minneapolis. However, Boutique has had troubles in recent months.
Reports from last month said Boutique had numerous canceled flights, not due to factors beyond its control but rather with “controllable cancellations,” according to Hedrick. For example, in June, a dozen round-trip flights were canceled; 11 were considered controllable cancellations. In September, there were 16 canceled flights, all considered “controllable,” according to the most recent data available from the airport.
Boutique Air’s EAS contract runs from June 1, 2018, through May 31, 2020. The company receives more than $3 million per year in subsidies for providing Essential Air Service.
On July 29, the Thief River Falls Airport Authority sent a letter of concern to Boutique Air about the high number of cancellations.
In the two weeks since the last report, Boutique CEO Shawn Simpson reached out to Hedrick to discuss the challenges the carrier has faced, Hedrick said. Simpson is planning a trip to Thief River Falls to discuss changes he hopes to implement with the airline. That meeting could happen later in October.
The U.S. DOT requested proposals from air carriers to provide 18 weekly round trips with an eight- or nine-seat plane from Thief River Falls to Minneapolis or another hub airport. The department also would accept 12 weekly round-trip flights with a 30- to 50-seat airplane.