Penair stopping air service to Nebraska routes after Sept. 10

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NORTH PLATTE, Neb. (KNOP) Penair is ending their air service to North Platte, Scottsbluff, and Kearney nearly 2 months earlier than expected.

They are stopping service after the airline filed for a Chapter 11 Reorganization Plan at the beginning of August.

Mike Sharkey, the North Platte Regional Airport Manager, said the nationwide pilot shortage is one of the main reasons Penair announced their decision to drop air service to their Nebraska routes.

"You can't fly the airplanes without pilots," Sharkey said. "They had to start cancelling, and when they started cancelling, then we started seeing our ridership decline, and then finally they couldn't pay their bills."

Sharkey said the problem could get worse before it gets better.

"Until Congress undoes what they've done and does something about removing their unrealistic requirements that's needed now for a pilot to get hired by an air carrier, it's going to continue to get worse," Sharkey said.

Penair has set up a special department to handle the ticketing issues for flights previously scheduled between their Nebraska routes and Denver after September 10. Customers are able to have their purchases refunded.

"It's devastating to our air service situation. We will be without air service for approximately six months," Sharkey said.

Those who work in the community say the regional airports are crucial for local business.

"It's very important to the local golf courses especially up in the Sandhills area, because there's no immediate access to the area," Leanne French, from Mullen, said.

Sharkey said there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Scottsbluff went through a similar situation in 2010, and were without air service for six months, however, they recovered well from the turbulence.

"I don't see any reason why North Platte can't do the same," Sharkey said.

The North Platte Regional Airport is already moving forward to find a new essential air service provider.

Airlines that want to bid on their route have until midnight on September 12 to do so.

From there, the community has 30 days to respond with their recommendation for who they find to be the best fit for the area.

The selected airline and the Department of Transportation have 30 days to work out an EAS contract. Then, it will take roughly 90 days for the selected airline to work out their logistics ranging from staffing, to equipment, to reservation systems.

Sharkey expects there to be a new air service provider ready to fly by the beginning of March, 2018.

NOTICE: The last flight from North Platte will be the departing to Denver at 9:00 a.m. on September 10.

To received a refund for purchased tickets after September 10, you are encouraged to call 800-448-4226 or 907-771-2501.