Big Sky’s horizons are getting smaller, and the carrier, which specialises in subsidised rural air service under the EAS program, shuts down its last routes on Wednesday as it readies itself for an orderly exit from the airline business. That will take its parent, MAIR Holdings, out of business as well. MAIR sold off its major asset, Mesaba Aviation, to Northwest last year, leaving it with Big Sky's Beechcraft operations and payments due it from Northwest. MAIR executives say these payments will be distributed to investors, and then it too will cease business. After it sold Mesaba, MAIR had shifted some of its Beechcraft to Boston, where they flew on behalf of Delta Air Lines, starting in April 2007. But Big Sky president Fred DeLeeuw said “we no longer believe that we can reach sustained profitability.” He blamed high fuel prices and bad weather in the Northeast, although some sceptics would suggest that snow is well known in Boston and indeed should be no surprise to a company headquartered in Billings, Montana.
Still, the company ended its East Coast service after replacements such as Cape Air and Boston-Maine Airways stepped in to places such as Plattsburgh, NY. Great Lakes, a 19-seat operator, will take over some eastern routes and will take over most of Big Sky’s Montana routes (Glasgow, Glendive, Havre, Lewistown, Miles City, Sidney, and Wolf Point, to be specific) out west. The Transportation Department permission to end flights at those points is effective 16 January. Although Big Sky employees say they will try to mount a buyout of the company, such efforts have a sad track record. It’s easy and tempting to make fun of little towns in states that are only squares on the map, but to communities like these, this is big news. With the EAS (Essential Air Service) program under attack in Congress, though, these cities and their fate will doubtless become arguments in the debate.