JONESBORO — Four companies have submitted bids to provide passenger airline service to Jonesboro Municipal Airport, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The Jonesboro Municipal Airport Commission was scheduled to meet at noon today to consider whether to endorse a particular bidder.

Air Choice One of St. Louis has provided the federally subsidized service since 2012. It provides 18 flights to St. Louis Lambert International Airport each week, where passengers can connect with major carriers. The current federal contract expires in early 2022.

Air Choice One has served Jonesboro since 2012. It’s authorized to fly nine-passenger turbo prop planes.

When the company took over the Essential Air Service contract in 2012 from a company that declared bankruptcy, there were an average of only 17 passengers per month. The average peaked at 990 in July 2019. The numbers plummeted in 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic and the tornado that destroyed much of the airport’s infrastructure in the same year. Air Choice One had 56 rides in April 2020. March this year, the latest month available statistically, had 521 rides. Now, the carrier is averaging 14 passengers per day.

In its invitation for bids, the government urged companies to offer options for flying to up to two different destinations.

Southern Airways, which provides EAS service to three other Arkansas airports – Harrison, Hot Springs and El Dorado-Camden, offered options for 18 flights to St. Louis for $2,337 million in the first year; 18 flights to Nashville for $2.49 million; 18 flights to Dallas-Fort Worth for $3.42 million; or 12 flights to Nashville and six flights to St. Louis for $2.5 million.

Cape Air’s proposal would provide 18 flights per week to St. Louis for $2.57 million in subsidies in the first year.

San Francisco-based Boutique Air proposes 12 flights per week to St. Louis and six to Dallas for a first-year’s subsidy of $2.8 million.

Air Choice One’s proposal for 18 flights to St. Louis would require a $2.173 million subsidy in the first year of the new proposed contract. Option 2, which would provide 12 flights to St. Louis and six flights to Nashville, would require a $2.22 million subsidy. Twelve flights to St. Louis and six flights weekly to New Orleans would require $2.68 million in federal money in the first year. The fourth option is 12 flights to St. Louis and six flights to Dallas-Fort Worth, but the airline said it would need almost $2.59 million in taxpayer money.

Shane Storz, president of Air Choice One, has stressed to local officials it’s important to keep ridership above 10 per day to keep the federal cost-per-passenger below $200.

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