SkyWest decides to move hub to Colorado Springs

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SkyWest Airlines plans to open a maintenance base and provide crew housing in Colorado Springs by Aug. 1, taking over and expanding the operation being abandoned by Air Wisconsin. The new facility should be fully operational by December.

SkyWest is based in St. George, Utah, and operates regional commuter flights for Delta Airlines and United Airlines under the names Delta Connection and United Express, along with Continental Connection (for Continental Airlines) in Houston.

Ron Reber, chief operating officer for SkyWest, said Colorado Springs is a “natural location” for aircraft and crew overnights. “As we continue our eastward expansion, it makes an excellent strategic location for a maintenance and crew facility.”

Although original estimates from the company placed the employment need as high as 135 maintenance personnel and 150 crew members, the new facility does not necessarily mean an immediate flood of local jobs.

SkyWest hiring policies encourage promoting from within the company first, said spokeswoman Sabrena Suite. “I don’t think I could even speculate” how many local jobs ultimately will be created, she said. “When we opened in Denver, there was a lot of interest among our employees. It’s really hard to say, since they’re given the option to relocate.”

Relocations will be awarded at the end of June.

SkyWest initially will hire 34 flight-crew employees in Colorado Springs, and up to 50 maintenance workers. Employment could grow to as many as 285 workers as the company expands the operation at Colorado Springs Airport, Reber said.

“It is our understanding that Skywest will establish a maintenance base with

approximately 50 jobs for mechanics, technicians and support personnel,” said airport Aviation Director Mark Earle. “They will also establish a crew base for more than 40 air crews. We do not have a final number, but most regional jets have a crew consisting of three people – two pilots and one flight attendant. That means that approximately 120 air crew members would be stationed in the Springs.”

Flight attendant and pilot recruiting events are scheduled for 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. July 16 in Colorado Springs, though the location has not been announced.

Workers at the facility will perform overnight maintenance for the airline’s fleet, which includes 50-passenger and 70-passenger Canadair regional jets, manufactured by Bombardier, an international corporation headquartered in Canada.

According to John Cassiani, executive vice president of the Economic Development Corp., the maintenance base will employ skilled laborers, including airplane mechanics and other certified technicians.

“When it’s all said and done, close to 300 jobs will be created,” Cassiani said. “This has become a maintenance hub for SkyWest. They will probably increase the number of flights out here, and the flight frequency will also pick up.”

As Atlantic Coast Airlines, which is SkyWest’s United Express partner on the East Coast, looks to become its own low-cost carrier – like Jet Blue or Southwest – and Air Wisconsin has expanded eastward to fill in some of those flying areas, SkyWest is hoping to have a larger presence in Denver and Chicago, Suite said.

“It may appear like we’re trading job for job, but we have planes in our schedule that already spend their overnights in Colorado Springs,” Suite said. “Instead of getting maintenance done in Salt Lake (City), there’s a traffic demand to have planes going through Colorado Springs.”

The move should prove to be efficient since rerouting maintenance trips to Salt Lake will no longer be necessary.

The SkyWest facility will be in one of the city’s enterprise zones, Earle said. Enterprise zones are areas designated by the state to receive tax credits that encourage the creation and retention of jobs. Discussions in the coming weeks will determine exactly what benefits SkyWest will earn.

Tax credits in enterprise zones often spring from hiring ($500 per employee), or investing in machinery (3 percent of the machinery cost). The SkyWest hub should do both.

SkyWest flies daily into Colorado Springs as Delta Connection, and should begin United Express flights here Aug. 1.

“There’s an advantage to having a full range of airline activities here,” Cassiani said. “From the passenger side of things to airplane design, to radio activities to communication activities to maintenance activities, we need all of them to be a nice rounded community.”

- Editorial@csbj.com