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Mike Jacobson

Sen. Mike Jacobson

District 42

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As I have stated many times before, quality air service is critical to growing our region. I am pleased to have served several years on the North Platte Airport Authority before I was appointed to the Legislature in February 2022, and continue to watch the Authority’s progress as they advocate for sustainable air service for District 42.

I ran for the Authority in November 2012 because our air service as clearly not meeting expectations. At the time, the airport was served by Great Lakes Airlines who was flying 19-passenger turboprop aircraft. There were far too many cancelled flights and late flights, which caused the public to lose confidence in the airline as a reliable alternative to driving.

From 2013-2017, enplanements (boardings) fluctuated between 3,000 to 4,300 as the Authority worked to find a better alternative. After Pen Air briefly replaced Great Lake Airlines, we were finally able to get SkyWest Airlines to provide 50-passenger regional jet service in late 2017. In 2018, total enplanements jumped to nearly 13,000 and continued to grow to almost 16,000 in 2019. Once the pandemic hit in 2020, enplanements fell just over 50%, but were still well above earlier levels and enplanements rebounded to 13,500 in 2021. Unfortunately, in February 2022, the Authority was notified that SkyWest intended to terminate their service North Platte, Kearney, and Scottsbluff due to pilot shortages.

Although three airlines made proposals to replace SkyWest, all three options were rightfully rejected by the Authority at their June 6 meeting. The Authority must consider several factors in evaluating acceptable airline service. The airline must offer at least twice a day round trip service to Denver at practical times. The early flight must leave early enough to allow passengers to connect with flights leaving Denver. The last flight back to North Platte must leave Denver late enough to accommodate returning passengers. Additionally, the airline must have baggage handling agreements with the other major airlines to avoid the need to claim and recheck baggage in Denver. And, quality air service means having jet service with enough available seats to accommodate the traveling public on a reliable schedule.

All three initial proposals had capacity and flight times that would have been unworkable. Two airlines only offered service through 9-passenger single engine turboprop aircraft. The third, Ravn Alaska Air, would have used a 50-passenger twin engine turboprop, but required that the route would be shared with Kearney as a two-stop option.

The Authority is hopeful SkyWest will provide an alternative proposal. Some discussion has included a 30-seat regional jet service. The smaller plane can be serviced by one very experienced pilot past their mandatory retirement age paired with a less experienced co-pilot seeking to qualify to fly these aircraft. Not only would this option help North Platte resume quality air service, but it would also start to address the pilot shortage that jeopardizes regional airline growth.

We will see how this proposal develops. In the meantime, the Department of Transportation (DOT) has entered an Order Prohibiting Termination of Service following a request by the Authority in February 2022. I have written a letter to the DOT in my capacity as your State Senator to urge the DOT to extend enforcement of the Order until a suitable replacement service can be found.

I have great confidence in the members of the Airport Authority to take the appropriate steps to keep quality air service at North Platte Regional Airport. We have proven that this service will be utilized if the right airline is in place. Reliable air service will be absolutely necessary if we want to continue growing the region and allowing everyone in District 42 and surrounding areas to be connected in a cost-effective way.

Meanwhile, let’s all do what we can to support the Airport Authority as they find a solution to this problem.

Constituents can reach Senator Mike Jacobson at mjacobson@leg.ne.gov or 402-471-2729. Our door is always open!

Sen. Mike Jacobson

District 42
Room 1302
P.O. Box 94604
Lincoln, NE 68509
(402) 471-2729
Email: mjacobson@leg.ne.gov
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