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3 Arkansas Airports Await Approval of New Airline Contracts

2 min read

Three Arkansas airports left in the lurch after the September bankruptcy of SeaPort Airlines have recommended that the Department of Transportation award new contracts to Contour Airlines of Smyrna, Tennessee, and Boutique Air of San Francisco, California.

If their recommendations are approved, Contour will provide federally subsidized Essential Air Service (EAS) to the South Arkansas Regional Airport in El Dorado and Boone County Regional Airport in Harrison, while city-owned Hot Springs Memorial Field airport will receive EAS service from Boutique.

Tim Johnson, manager of the El Dorado airport, said Contour plans to fly a twin-engine turboprop Jetstream 31 on two round trips to Dallas and one round trip to Nashville every day.

The small city was hit hard by the bankruptcy, which left it with no airline service and without $2 million a year in federal subsidies for the EAS flights provided by SeaPort, he said.

Johnson said the airport sees several thousand passengers a year and is hoping hear back from the Department of Transportation within a few weeks.

He added that, unlike the SeaPort flights that went from El Dorado to Houston and Memphis but stopped in Hot Springs, Contour will offer non-stop service.

At the Harrison airport, Contour will offer two round trips to Dallas and one round trip to Memphis every day, according to Manager Judy McCutcheon.

She said the airport lost all its flights and about $3,500 in revenue a month, or $42,000 a year, when SeaPort shut down.

McCutcheon said she’d heard the minimum time to hear back from the department on recommendations was three weeks, but joked that she’d like to know of their approval by Friday.

She added that, once approved, it will likely take at least 60 days for any airline to start offering flights.

Boutique plans to fly a King Air 350 for two round trips to Dallas and one round trip to Atlanta every day from the Hot Springs airport.

Director Glen Barentine said his airport was the least affected by the SeaPort bankruptcy, as the SeaPort contract accounted for less than 1 percent of its total budget and federal subsidies from participating in the EAS program totaling $3.9 million a year.     

Barnetine said he’d like to hear back from the Department of Transportation by Thanksgiving, although the airline “won’t be starting operations anytime soon.” He hopes that the EAS flights will return by the time the Oaklawn Racing & Gaming season.

The airport sees about 3,000 passengers a year, Barentine added, but is hoping adding Boutique’s service will help it grow.

He also said the airport is excited to have a non-stop flight to the Atlanta airport, the busiest in the nation.

Barentine said passengers will be able to fly to Dallas early in the morning, spend the day there and return home in the evening while the flights to Atlanta will be available in the middle of the day.

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