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Air Choice One Will Bid to Keep EAS Contract in Jonesboro

3 min read

Air Choice One of St. Louis will bid to retain its federal Essential Air Service contracts for Jonesboro Municipal Airport after a rocky 2020, which saw passenger counts decline amid the pandemic and its airport terminal leveled by a tornado.

The EAS is a federal program that subsidizes smaller carriers so they can profitably offer a minimal level of scheduled air service to smaller communities. 

Air Choice One has been providing that service to Jonesboro since 2012. Its most recent four-year, $8 million contract ends in January.

CEO Shane Storz said the airline offers reliability, dependability and affordable fares, and it wants to do things like provide special chartered flights to New Orleans and Nashville in the future. 

“We’re just really, really proud of what we’ve done in Jonesboro. I think Jonesboro folks in the community are happy with us,” he said. “We’re doing a current survey, and the response is Air Choice One’s doing great.”

He expects the U.S. Department of Transportation to request proposals for Jonesboro’s next EAS contract in 30-45 days. 

Storz said the competition for contracts might be hotter this year than in years past, like it has been for the other EAS airports in Arkansas, as carriers seek more secure revenue after the pandemic.

“We’ll do the best we can to keep them happy and give them a good proposal. We hopefully get renewed for at least a couple of years. But we know we want to continue to expand in Jonesboro,” Storz said. “We’ve got fares to draw the attention of the community and surrounding areas, to utilize the service, so it will grow.” 

Airport Manager George Jackson said the airport has had “a pretty good relationship” with Air Choice One, which has been “much more reliable” and offered more affordable fares than its previous EAS providers. 

“They work pretty hard, being a small family-owned operation, and they have a lot of incentive to make it work,” he said.

Tornado Repair

Both the airport and Air Choice One have spent the year dealing with catastrophes — the pandemic and its economic fallout, and a tornado that ripped through in March 2020, leaving the airport with extensive damage, including the loss of 22 airport hangers.

“I would say everything at the airport got some [tornado] damage, and a lot of it was just totally, totally destroyed,” Jackson said. “It was kind of an eerie feeling because a lot of the airports were trying to put restrictions and shut down due to the pandemic and we were totally the opposite.”

Air Choice One got back to work six days after the tornado struck, using space provided by Hytrol Conveyor Co. for its lobby operations. Now the airline is sharing a terminal with private planes — an arrangement that will likely last at least another year, Storz said.

Repair work continues. The 22 hangers were rebuilt and opened in March. Renovations to the main fixed-base operator building have been completed, taxiway reconstruction is underway, and the airport received a $1.4 million grant to fix runway lighting and signs.

Repairs to the airport’s fire and rescue building and maintenance facility are happening now and could be complete by the end of the year, weather permitting.

“It’s just kind of a slow process, ongoing, because we have to do the take sealed bids and there’s a lot of design, updates,” Jackson said.

Storz said passenger counts are improving, now about 60% of what they were before the pandemic and tornado. 

Jackson was optimistic about the airport’s future, and said airport leaders are looking at a project to strengthen the runway to accommodate heavier aircraft. And the city has an overpass project in the works that will involve some airport property.

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