The US Department of Transportation (DOT) has rebuffed an attempt by SkyWest Airlines (OO, St. George Municipal) to hive off the provision of Essential Air Services to its new charter subsidiary, SkyWest Charter (SWC).

Citing a decision by the local community and airport, the DOT – in an order dated May 1, 2023 - said it had no choice but to turn down SWC's proposal to provide EAS at Scottsbluff, Nebraska. It followed the community's request to insist that parent SkyWest Airlines continue providing the service until a suitable replacement carrier was found.

Citing an ongoing pilot shortage amongst regional US carriers, SkyWest Airlines in March 2022 filed a 90-day notice that it intended to stop providing EAS services to 29 communities – including Scottsbluff - from June 8, 2022. However, the DOT ordered SkyWest Airlines to continue servicing those communities until it found a suitable replacement.

The US pilot crisis results from, amongst others, regulatory requirements for Part 121 airline pilots (both captains and first officers) to hold Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) certificates and 1,500 hours of flight experience. SkyWest Airline's solution has been to retrofit some of its CRJ200s with 30 seats and operate them under SWC's Part 135 charter authority, which requires pilots to have merely 500 hours of flight experience. It has also applied for commuter air carrier authority which would allow SWC to operate scheduled EAS.

Its plan has been met with strong opposition from the Air Line Pilots Association International (ALPA), which argues SkyWest's plan jeopardises US aviation safety standards, alleging that SWC would use less experienced and less-qualified first officers. The airline has rejected these allegations.

Operating under the United Express brand, SkyWest Airlines was reselected on October 22, 2019, to provide EAS at Scottsbluff for another three-year term from February 1, 2020, to January 31, 2023. It was to provide the community with 12 weekly round trips to Denver International using 50-seat CRJ200s at an annual subsidy of USD2.9 million.

Following its notice to suspend EAS at Scottsbluff, Boutique Air and Southern Airways Express tendered for the EAS contract but were rejected by the community.

SWC then submitted a proposal to operate under its existing Part 135 air taxi authority to provide Scottsbluff with up to 4.5 weekly round trips to Chicago O'Hare and 4.5 weekly round trips to Denver using 30-seat CRJ200s. SWC requested a one-year contract term for an annual subsidy of USD3.9 million. Flights to Denver would be operated under a codeshare with United Airlines (UA, Chicago O'Hare).

However, Scottsbluff Airport (also known as Western Nebraska Regional Airport) and the Scottsbluff community also rejected SWC's proposal. They said SWC's proposal did not offer the minimum weekly scheduled flights required, did not offer a codeshare, or services under the United brand. Consequently, the DOT said it was obliged to reject SWC's proposal.