MUSCLE SHOALS, Ala. (WHNT) – A new airline will soon be flying into northwest Alabama.
Contour Airlines has been selected for a 31-month contract to serve Northwest Alabama Regional Airport under the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Alternate Essential Air Service program.
Normally, Essential Air Service provides a federal subsidy to smaller, regional airlines to maintain passenger service that would otherwise be discontinued at smaller airports. EAS typically funds two or three round trip flights each day to a major hub (such as Chicago O’Hare, George Bush Intercontinental in Houston, Charlotte, or Atlanta) from these smaller airports. However, the Alternate EAS program allows smaller airports to forego their EAS service and receive a grant to spend in a way that better suits their needs.
Boutique Air, which has been serving the airport since March 2018 under the EAS program, was one of three carriers who re-bid for the EAS contract. The two other carriers bidding were Southern Airways Express (who bid with Cessna Caravans and the Pilatus PC-12) and Air Choice One (who bid with Beechcraft 1900s and Cessna Caravans).
All of these carriers bid to serve the airport with aircraft that carry 8 to 9 passengers like the PC-12s Boutique has been flying into the airport.
When the bidding process opened to community comments, Muscle Shoals Mayor Mike Lockhart requested permission to begin Alternate EAS Service, citing Contour’s superior proposal to use the 30-passenger Embraer 135.
“The Airport is submitting this AEAS application pursuant to DOT’s 2004 order because [Muscle Shoals] has the opportunity to secure jet service from Contour, a highly reliable carrier with an American Airlines interline, serving a large hub where American is the dominant carrier, and offering substantially more capacity, all at a similar or the same or lower of level as the far inferior traditional EAS bids received by the Department.”Muscle Shoals application for Alternate EAS Service
Under the interline agreement with American Airlines, Contour passengers can book one itinerary and move between the two airlines without having to check-in again or claim their baggage.
Muscle Shoals’ application for Alternate EAS was granted Monday. However, the airport will be expected to maintain a minimum of 10 passengers boarding a flight each day at the airport, and ensure the government subsidizes no more than $200 per passenger.
“This is exciting news for both flyers in Northwest Alabama and for the local economy. It’s vitally important for this area to have an airport with commercial service. This will give flyers in the Shoals access to the world with direct flights to Charlotte, where they can catch flights going to cities all over the country and to the rest of the globe. My office was glad to send letters of support for this grant.”Congressman Robert Aderholt
Application details show Contour flights from Northwest Alabama Regional Airport will connect at American’s hub in Charlotte. The new contract will be effective March 1, with flights scheduled to start the same day. Booking is open now on the Contour website.