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Tue, Nov 13, 2007

Airline Service For New Mexico Capital In Limbo

Great Lakes Pulls Planes; American Eagle, Delta Awaiting Feds

What was a newly-resurgent effort to bring residents of The City Different a choice of air carriers is now floundering. Officials with Santa Fe Municipal Airport (SAF) say as of next month, the airport serving New Mexico's capital city will lose what is currently its only scheduled airline service.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports Great Lakes Airlines notified the city recently it will suspend its thrice-daily turboprop service between Santa Fe and Denver, CO on December 10.

That's when Delta Air Lines was supposed to start flights to Los Angeles and Salt Lake City from Santa Fe... but, alas, those flights -- in addition to planned service on American Eagle to Dallas and Los Angeles, scheduled to start December 13 -- are on hold due to bureaucratic wrangling.

The carriers are awaiting an environmental assessment report for the Federal Aviation Administration, now being carried out by a contractor, according to SAF airport manager Jim Montman.

"There have been a number of errors made in that process," Montman said. "Specifically, a number of federal agencies ... that the FAA believes need to be contacted" have responded slowly -- including the US Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management and the Army Corps of Engineers, reports the New Mexican.

"Letters have been sent out to them," Montman said. "There have been some slow responses."

Calling the situation "very fluid," Montman isn't sure when American Eagle and Delta will be able to start flights. The news leaves those carriers in a bind, as well.

"We thought everything was good to go, but in the last day or so, I found out we will not be starting service on December 13," said American Eagle spokeswoman Andrea Hugely. "From what I understand from the airport, some paperwork needs to be completed and submitted."

Delta spokeswoman Susan Elliott says the carrier has bumped its planned start date to sometime in February. Hugely says that's roughly the time American Eagle anticipates starting service, too, assuming the report is complete by then.

As for Great Lakes, Montman says he's trying to convince that carrier to stay on at SAF until the other two airlines are ready to come onboard. The airline says it pulled its planes from SAF to handle contracts for other cities... but according to Montman, "as I understand, those contracts are still being worked on or are going through the approval process with the cities involved and the Department of Transportation."

In other words, Great Lakes faces similar regulatory glitches as Delta and American Eagle... which may bode well in the short-term for SAF.

"The possibility of their continuing to provide air service to Santa Fe is very real," Montman said of Great Lakes. "I'm in daily discussion with their chairman and CEO about that."



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