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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: January 3, 2008

Following Big Sky's Sudden Financial Collapse, Stranding North Country Communities And Travelers, Schumer Pushes Dot To Entice New And Reliable Air Carriers To Region


Air Service across the North Country is Dependent on the Financial Support Provided by the EAS Program Subsidies to Attract Air Carriers

Schumer Calls on DOT to Offer Necessary Financial and Logistical Support to Rapidly Lure New Air Carriers to the Region and Ensure they Offer Long-term Reliable Air Service

In Effort to Prevent Big Sky from Leaving Flyers and Airports High and Dry, Schumer Calls on DOT to Closely Monitor Reimbursements for Outstanding Tickets and Back-Payments Owed to Local Airports

In the wake of Big Sky’s sudden financial collapse, leading to its abrupt termination of air service in five communities across the North Country, today U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer called on the Department of Transportation (DOT) to provide the necessary incentive packages in an effort to quickly lure new and reliable air carriers to service the area. Following Big Sky’s pullout across the North Country, which has stranded air travelers in Plattsburgh, Watertown, Massena, Ogdensburg and the Lake Placid/Saranac Lake region, Schumer noted that it’s vital the next air carrier has the financial stability to provide long-term service in the region.

 

Schumer also ratcheted-up pressure on DOT to aggressively solicit new carriers and to ensure Big Sky isn’t pocketing any of the EAS money so the local airports aren’t left footing the bill.

 

“Big Sky’s sudden collapse has made it crystal clear that in choosing a replacement air carrier for the North Country we need to make sure it has the financial health to bring long-term and reliable air service to the region,” said Senator Schumer. “DOT owes it to communities and air travelers across the North Country to provide a competitive package so it can entice a reliable air carrier to the region– we need first-rate service, not a carrier that turns out to be all smoke and mirrors.”

 

Big Sky recently announced it was terminating air service on January 7, 2008 for Plattsburgh, Watertown, Massena, Ogdensburg and the Lake Placid/Saranac Lake region. The unexpected announcement coincided with reports that financial problems were crippling the air service carrier.

 

DOT has issued a request for proposals (RFP) to fill this service that is due January 11th, 4 days after Big Sky vacates these markets.  As local travelers could face a period of several weeks or months before a new carrier is able to begin service, it is critical that DOT aggressively court airlines to apply for this service and see that a decision on a new carrier is made as quickly as possible.  

 

Schumer, a longtime champion for expanding air service to the North Country, ratcheted-up pressure on the DOT and encouraged it to take an aggressive approach in swiftly filling the air service void left by Big Sky’s departure. In a letter sent to the DOT today, Schumer said, “Simply waiting passively to see which bids are received on January 11th would be a grave mistake.  . . . as service to these five markets has been dependant on the support provided by the EAS program, it is absolutely vital that the Department continues to not only make those subsidies available, but also  is open to considering increasing the financial and logistical support it provides to sustain quality air service for communities across the North Country.”

 

In his letter, Schumer encouraged the DOT to reach out to potential bidders to ensure that a breadth of good options is identified for each of these markets.

 

Furthermore, EAS supported air routes around the country are generally operated by relatively smaller airlines, but rely on code-sharing agreements with major airlines such as Delta, Jet Blue and USAir to name a few.  These code-sharing partnerships allow those who travel on these routes to take advantage of the existing hubs, connecting flights and automated reservation systems of their larger counterparts. 

 

Schumer, therefore, argued that it is important that DOT not only reach out to primary EAS applicants, but also to the potential code-sharing partners of these airlines.  From both a financial and operational standpoint, these arrangements often take time to be completed, so engaging these potential partners  as early as possible is critical. 

 

Finally, Schumer in his letter noted that several of the cities served under Big Sky are currently owed payment by the airline. It’s been reported to Schumer’s office that Massena’s Airport is owed $5,000 and Watertown’s airport in excess of $50,000 in a variety of fees and charges.  Schumer urged DOT to see that Big Sky makes good on their outstanding financial obligations and ensure s that the company does not pocket any money from the EAS subsidy before local airports, flyers and other creditors are reimbursed.

 

 It has also been reported to Schumer’s office that there as many as 14,000 tickets for travel on Big Sky after their suspension of service on January 7th.   Schumer asked DOT's Aviation Consumer Protection Bureau to monitor this situation and ensure that alternative travel arrangements or refunds were provided to all people with tickets on Big Sky.  

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