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S.D. Attorney General's Office handling airline complaints following loss of Essential Air Service

WATERTOWN, S.D. - Watertown and Pierre airport passengers impacted by California Pacific Airlines discontinuing the Essential Air Service route have another recourse to voice their complaints.

Pierre Mayor Steve Harding said Friday, Jan. 25, his office has spoken with the South Dakota Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg’s Office of Consumer Protection. As a result, Harding said Consumer Protection has taken the lead regarding passenger complaints against CPAir.

The EAS program was set up to help small rural airports that do not attract major airlines obtain scheduled passenger air service since the federal deregulation of airlines 40 years ago allowed major airlines to bow out of smaller markets, the Pierre Capitol Journal previously reported.

Impacted passengers can thus either fill out a complaint form at the Office of Consumer Protection’s website at consumer.sd.gov/complaintform.aspx or call the government office at 1-800-300-1986.

Harding’s comments regarding impacted passengers were part of a larger email stating how Pierre will proceed with finding a new commercial airline provider.

Not surprisingly, Pierre’s circumstances are largely the same as Watertown’s. Both cities will wait to see which airlines submit EAS bids to the United States Department of Transportation by the Jan. 30 deadline. Like Watertown city and airport officials, Harding said he and other Pierre officials are optimistic about finding another airline.

We fully expect that the federal RFP (request for proposals) process will generate interest in our market and provide us with an opportunity to return service to the Pierre airport,” Harding wrote. “Just last week we had one airline in town scouting out our facilities and services. We consider that a very solid indicator that interest in our market already exists.”

As soon as the Jan. 30 deadline passes, Harding expects city and airport officials to be busy combing through proposals. A timeline for restoring commercial air service has not been determined.

“Historically, the USDOT has been very swift in passing those proposals on to us. We intend to review proposals as quickly as possible and then bring a recommendation forward for commission action,” Harding wrote. “With that said, the quantity and quality of the proposals will impact our review and recommendation time line.”

Harding also wrote that Pierre and Watertown officials are working in tandem to restore commercial air service to their respective cities. Harding wrote that Pierre officials are open to the possibility of continuing to be linked with Watertown for EAS service.

“Watertown has been a great partner. Our communities have supported each other as we have worked through air service challenges,” Harding wrote. “I fully anticipate the partnership will continue.”

Watertown Mayor Sarah Caron said last week that Watertown is also open to continuing its partnership with Pierre if that is in each city’s best interest.

“I actually use that link a lot,” she said.