Contour Airlines (LF, Tupelo) has been put forward to replace Boutique Air (4B, San Francisco) as the essential air service (EAS) provider at Mississippi’s Greenville, MS in terms of a grant application by the airport to the US Department of Transportation (DOT).

According to a regulatory filing by the DOT, the current EAS to the airport provided by Boutique Air expires on September 30, 2021. Four airlines – Boutique Air, Key Lime Air operating as Denver Air Connection (Denver Centennial), AL!WBR-o trading as Air Choice One (St. Louis Lambert International), and Southern Airways Express (9X, Memphis International)- have submitted offers to provide traditional EAS services for either two- or four-year periods commencing on October 1, 2021.

After thoroughly reviewing each proposal, the airport applied to the DOT in June for participation in the Alternate Essential Air Service (AEAS) programme for four years, beginning on October 1, 2021, with service to be provided. Contour Airlines with 12 weekly round trips either to Dallas/Fort Worth or to a combination of Dallas/Fort Worth and Nashville International, using Contour’s 30-seat E135 regional jets operated as public charter flights under 14 CFR Part 380. The DOT explained the AEAS programme was intended to allow communities to use EAS funds in an alternative manner to address their transportation needs. The Department said the airport’s application and participation in the AEAS programme were contingent on its ability to receive a grant from the DOT and the appropriate contract with Contour.

Greenville Mid-Delta Airport has been a long-time participant in the traditional EAS programme. In the last decade, EAS services here have been provided by Mesaba Airlines (Minneapolis St. Paul International) and Pinnacle Airlines (Memphis International) both under the Delta Connection brand; Silver Airways (3M, Fort Lauderdale International), and SeaPort Airlines (Portland International). Since 2016, Boutique Air has provided the service with nine-seater PC-12s. It initially offered services only to Nashville but later added Dallas/Fort Worth, then changed service to Atlanta Hartsfield Jackson, Georgia, before reverting to Nashville in 2020.

According to the airport, Boutique showed promise in helping to rebuild the airport’s market between 2016 and 2018. However, due to operational performance issues, its traffic declined substantially after the award of its current four-year contract. One of the factors that had limited Boutique’s performance was its connection process at Dallas/Fort Worth. For cost reasons, the airline operated from the airport’s corporate aviation terminal, which meant connecting passengers must be shuttled to and re-screened at the main passenger terminal, negating the value of Boutique’s interline agreements with American Airlines (AA, Dallas/Fort Worth) and United Airlines (UA, Chicago O'Hare). In its renewed EAS application, Boutique Air essentially proposed to offer the same 18 rotations per week split between Dallas/Fort Worth and Nashville for another four-year term, albeit at a higher subsidy.

Greenville Mid-Delta Airport in January 2021 contacted Contour Airlines as the carrier had a reputation for dramatically improving air service under AEAS, where traditional EAS carriers had failed. The proposed service would bring 37,440 seats to the market annually, more than double the seats of any of the traditional EAS service offers. Contour’s proposed subsidy would increase from USD2.9 million in Year One to USD3.1 million in Year Four. Its services would operate from the main terminal at Dallas/Fort Worth for easy connections with interline partner American Airlines.

According to Greenville Mid-Delta Airport director Samuel L. Washington, the airport was hoping for a decision from the DOT in early August, reported the Delta Democrat-Times. It said Washington, in his monthly report to the Greenville City Council, had expressed concern over increased flight cancellations at the airport by Boutique Air, citing as a reason a possible shortage of pilots at the airline. Boutique Air was not immediately available for comment.