Airport officials welcome new, larger aircraft

New, larger Brasilia aircraft features flight attendant, in-cabin service, overhead bins and lavatory

Leigh Black Irvin
lirvin@daily-times.com

FARMINGTON — Officials at the Four Corners Regional Airport celebrated the beginning of service today for a new, larger passenger aircraft operated by Great Lakes Airlines, as well as two additional round-trip flights per week to Denver.

An Embraer EMB 120 Brasilia twin-turboprop airplane operated by Great Lakes Airlines taxis off the runway on Saturday at the Four Corners Regional Airport.

Flights of the Brasilia 30-passenger turboprop aircraft began this morning. Great Lakes Airlines, the only commercial airline that offers flights out of Farmington, has been offering three round-trip flights a day from Farmington to Denver since October. The Brasilia craft will allow additional flights to and from Denver on Wednesdays and Saturdays, giving Farmington an additional 60 seats per week to and from the Colorado capital.

“We’re excited about the extra seats, which will mean extra FAA funding,” Airport Manager Mike Lewis said.

Until today, Great Lakes flew passengers from Farmington to Denver in 19-passenger turboprop aircraft, with some limited flights to Prescott and Page, Ariz. The new, larger Brasilia craft will have a flight attendant and in-cabin service, overhead bins and a lavatory.

Lewis said that an FAA rule adopted in 2013 required first officers of passenger planes to have 1,500 flight hours, the same number of hours required for captains.

“This created a pilot shortage, because pilots didn’t have enough time to get the hours,” he said, adding that this shortage contributed to Great Lakes being able to offer only several flights a month. But starting in October, Great Lakes was able to increase round-trip flights to Denver to three a day.

“Farmington always supports itself and doesn’t need government subsidies (to support air service), so Great Lakes sees us as a viable market. People have been asking for more flights,” Lewis said, adding that it will now be up to the public to utilize the additional flights to keep them in service.

Workers fuel Great Lakes Airlines' new Embraer EMB 120 Brasilia twin-turboprop aircraft on Saturday at the Four Corners Regional Airport.

“I think this is a great opportunity for the traveling public to show us they want this service, and all we have to do to keep it here is fill up the airplane,” he said.

Lewis said many people don’t realize the airfare from Farmington to Denver is comparable to that from Durango, Colo., to Denver. He hopes more San Juan County residents will consider flying out of Farmington instead of driving to Durango to catch a flight.

“If all the traffic moves away from Farmington, the fares in Durango will have no competition,” he said. “Airlines won’t lower the fares if there is no competition.”

At today's celebration, the Brasilia plane was delayed in Denver by several hours due to weather conditions. Upon its arrival in Farmington, the aircraft’s pilot, Joe Linnebur, said he’s been flying the Brasilia passenger turboprop for Great Lakes for the past 10 years, and he said he’s excited that the Farmington route has been added.

“Farmington always did a good job of filling up the 19-seat planes, so it’s nice to be able to provide service to Farmington in a bigger airplane,” he said.

Farmington City Councilor Nate Duckett was at the airport to observe the new flight’s inauguration.

“The key for us in Farmington is that we have reliable transportation. Great Lakes overcame their hurdles, and that’s a really good thing,” he said.

Capt. Joe Linnebur talks about Great Lakes Airlines' new Embraer EMB 120 Brasilia twin-turboprop airplane on Saturday at the Four Corners Regional Airport.

Jody Carman, Four Corners Regional Airport administrative assistant, said she and other airport officials are trying to raise awareness about what the airport has to offer.

“In addition to the (No Worries) restaurant, we have a really nice car rental in the terminal, and we offer free parking," she said. "It’s a nice destination for fly-ins. The extra flights are the wonderful frosting on the cake."

For information on Great Lakes Airlines flights, visit greatlakesav.com.

Leigh Black Irvin is the business editor for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4621.