Twin Falls airport gains back another flight to Salt Lake City after industry cuts
A shortage of airline pilots that came to a head last winter quickly resulted in cutbacks on routes to small airports.
The Magic Valley Regional Airport in Twin Falls went from sending off four flights a day – one to Denver and three to Salt Lake City – to just one to Salt Lake City.
“With COVID, and other issues, and just the downturn with air travel, a lot of pilots retiring, there's a real pilot shortage in a lot of small community markets like ours,” said Bill Carberry, the airport manager.
Earlier this year, SkyWest Airlines, which operates the Twin Falls flights, cut service completely to 29 small airports nationwide, citing the pilot shortage.
The airline made minimum revenue agreements with other communities such as Twin Falls, Pocatello and Elko, Nevada, so it wouldn’t lose money on the few remaining trips there. It considered those risky markets even before the pandemic, and with scarce flight crews, it was watching the profitability of the routes more closely.
Twin Falls’ arrangement put the city and county together on the line for $400,000 for the single daily flight.
In the first quarter of the year, the localities paid up $25,000 to the airline. But in the last two quarters, the flight has been profitable by roughly $171,000 and $127,200.
With strong ticket sales, SkyWest came back with an offer for a second daily trip to Salt Lake City, and to factor it into the minimum revenue agreement.
City Council members signed off on the adjustment this week. Council Member Jason Brown considered it a good sign.
“The recognition by SkyWest to say, ‘Hey, the market here is good, it’s viable, and we do have people wanting to use our regional airport,’” he said during a meeting this week.
The airport, like those in other small communities around the country, is important for regional economic development, local leaders have said. Global companies in the Magic Valley like Chobani and Glanbia rely on daily flights.
For now, the second trip to Salt Lake City is only scheduled for November and December of this year.
Find reporter Rachel Cohen on Twitter @racheld_cohen
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