Press "Enter" to skip to content

Feds Save 45% on Pierre/Watertown Essential Air Subsidy; Noem Pitches Fit

Subsidy Queen Kristi Noem is complaining that the Biden Administration isn’t spending more money on infrastructure in South Dakota.

In April, the United States Department of Transportation chose Key Lime Air, doing business as Denver Air Connection, to replace SkyWest Airlines as Pierre and Watertown’s federally subsidized Essential Air Services passenger flight provider. Key Lime won the contract because it submitted the low bid:

The DOT acknowledged the communities’ preference for SkyWest but pointed out that a SkyWest contract would cost it USD7.7 million more than DAC’s combined Pierre and Watertown option (USD9.5 million for DAC versus USD17.3 million for SkyWest over two years).

“The Department cannot reasonably justify such a substantial increase in annual subsidy when DAC will connect the communities to the national air transportation system at a far lower cost,” it explained.

Boutique Air (4B, San Francisco, CA) also applied for the new contract but withdrew its unsubsidised proposals on February 1 [“Key Lime Air Takes EAS Contract at Pierre and Watertown, SD,” CH-Aviation, 2021.04.15].

USDOE, Summary of Proposals, Order 2021-4-7, 20210413
USDOE, Summary of Proposals, Order 2021-4-7, 20210413

Yesterday Governor Noem, who may spend more time at the Pierre and Watertown airports than in her actual office, decided yesterday to turn this federal fiscal responsibility into another risibly hypocritical partisan swipe cloaking a plea for more socialist intervention to keep South Dakota afloat:

“Because of SkyWest’s quality service, traffic at Pierre and Watertown Regional Airports skyrocketed prior to the pandemic,” said Governor Noem. “After the Biden Administration announced an infrastructure package worth over $2.5 trillion, it seems inconsistent to reject SkyWest’s superior service. I strongly encourage you to rethink this decision and instruct your team to issue a re-bid.”

Governor Noem emphasized that the change in service would have a detrimental impact on tourism to these cities and the surrounding areas. Additionally, the loss of high-quality service would put jobs, small businesses, and economic growth at risk in both cities, which are vital economic centers for South Dakota [Office of the Governor, press release, 2021.05.12].

The federal government responsibly stewards our tax dollars, while Kristi Noem begs for almost double the subsidy to prop up South Dakota’s tourism industry and economic development.

Tell me again—who’s the socialist?


  1. Mark Anderson 2021-05-13 19:21

    Kristi a socialist, no I don’t think so but she was a snow queen.

  2. grudznick 2021-05-13 20:26

    She was a very pretty snow queen indeed.

    Side note: on this Mr. Biden maskless thing now for the people who believed the CDC when they said “wear masks” now we’ll see how many nervous nellies are afraid of their guidance that says “don’t wear masks, you dolts, only doctors and thieves wear masks.”

    The businesses will sort this out and the money will win. What we are missing is the face tattoo to prove you are not a liar about getting vaccinated. grudznick has his face tattoo, do you?

  3. Arlo Blundt 2021-05-13 21:31

    well…Governor Noem is not a Socialist. She is a self serving, self centered, self inspired entrepreneur of the public moneyed sector, currently on a roll. What is a few million in airline subsidy for service to her home bases when she can cut a 10 million dollar consultant check to an out of state group of previously unknown “experts”. Unlike her “consultant largess” the federal decision to contract for the same service at half the cost is good stewardship. To Governor Noem its another opportunity to whine about being victimized by the evil Biden Administration.. She’s a one trick pony, and this is it.

  4. Joe 2021-05-13 22:21

    From the table it looks like the new carrier offers the same number of seats and same narrow-body jet service as Sky West. Seems like a no-brainer.

  5. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2021-05-14 05:10

    Joe, I’m surprised the numbers in the bid don’t make the DAC choice a slam-dunk for all parties concerned. But Senator Rounds says, “This has got more than just dollars and cents that have to be considered.” Senator Rounds, Senator Thune, and Rep. Johnson sent a joint letter to Secretary Buttigieg noting that Watertown and Pierre would both rather stick with SkyWest and urging him to review the bids again.

    There’s an awful lot of enthusiasm among our elected officials for avoiding change and spending more federal money than necessary. I have to wonder what else might be motivating the political push for the high bidder.

    I did check Open Secrets and find that Utah-based Skywest’s board chair Jerry Atkins and his wife have given lots of money to Republicans (though no federal contributions to any South Dakota Republicans; CAO Eric Woodward has one 2007 donation of $500 to Mitt Romney on the board, as does VP Airport Ops Lori Hunt. But long-time Key Lime VP Glen Rich of Denver gave to Ron Paul in 2008, Romney in 2012, and Trump in 2020. So on first pass, I’m not seeing direct evidence that political cash is involved—if anything, if the Noem regime were looking at political donations, they’d say SkyWest money has gone to the wrong sort of Republicans for her 2024 aspirations.

    Has anyone here flown SkyWest? What’s the big deal? Do they give out really good cookies in flight?

  6. jerry 2021-05-14 06:50

    Good points Cory, One has to wonder, how much is Skywest siphoning off to pay off these money grubbing politicos. 7 million over bid seems to me like there is room for political payoffs and these three seem to always have their hands out. I guess that is why there are competitive bids that are let.

  7. Donald Pay 2021-05-14 08:14

    Jerry, that was my first thought. There must be payoffs happening. Skywest wasn’t even in the same ballpark on their bid number.

  8. Loren 2021-05-14 08:14

    Rounds says that “more than just dollars and cents should be considered.” I thought “infrastructure” was only roads and bridges to these “conservative” gents. How about just fix the roads and bridges to the nearest airport and let the folks drive to FSD, FAR, MSP… !@#$%^&!

  9. O 2021-05-14 08:28

    We don’t want you to do it, and we don’t like how you did it is getting tired already. If Republicans continue to exclude themselves from the work of improving this nation, how can their gripes about how that work moves forward ever be taken seriously. Monday morning quarterbacks one and all.

    Is what Watertown and Pierre getting worse than what the GOP had in store for those air services?

  10. mike from iowa 2021-05-14 08:55

    drumpf further enhanced the beauty and ease of grifting and now all magats want theirs.

  11. Porter Lansing 2021-05-14 10:12

    Sorry. There’s nothing “essential” about federally subsidizing anything going to or within South Dakota.

    The state has consistently shown during the pandemic it’s not “foxhole material”.
    Overwhelmingly selfish and not group players.

    Take your “independent farm culture” and live as far away from modern America as possible.

    Who gives a good GD?

  12. Donald Pay 2021-05-14 10:25

    I’m old enough to remember Pierre in the 1980’s. I lived there during most of that decade, when Republicans wanted to end all sorts of federal programs. One of them was federal responsibility for and participation in funding all the airports and air fields that Lucky Lindy had promoted in the 1920’s and 1930’s.. One of those airports that was threatened by Reagan’s proposal was Pierre’s airport. It was big news in that little town.

    Lindbergh did a good job in getting the air industry going all over the country, but the Reagan Revolution threatened Lindy’s legacy, and it met stiff opposition. Part of the compromise was a newly created federal program, the essential air service subsidy, that was supposed to be a 10-year transitional program. But, like much of Republican rhetoric, it has a very short shelf life. It’s been nearly 40 years, and this temporary program has been more permanent than anyone thought at the time.

    Thune has been a long-time Rhino when it comes to subsidizing stuff. He might as well have an S, for Socialist, rather than an R, label. At one point, he was on the Commerce Committee, in fact he led it, when he could have followed through on the promise of killing this subsidy and making good on conservative principles. But who needs principles, when you can rake in the money, and make it easier for the $100,000 and up crowd (who take most of the flights) to get out of Dodge, or Pierre, as the case may be?

    Well, it all depends, I guess, on who you subsidize, and how much they fork over to you.

  13. Darrell Solberg 2021-05-14 12:36

    Does anyone remember, “Meth We’re on it”? Or the $500,000 the Noem family ranch (farm) received, plus another $100,000 for her brothers so called other business? I guess that these handouts don’t matter to barnyard Kristi, as long as she was able to line her and her families pockets!!! However it did COST TAXPAYERS for her self-serving ways!!

  14. Observer 2021-05-14 19:01

    I’d be mad too if I was gonna lose my SkyWest SkyMiles.

  15. Kyle 2021-05-15 09:22

    I’ve flown out of Watertown a few times; the perk to SkyWest is that they’re a United Connection contract flight— you book your round trip flight on United and are largely unaware that you’re on a contract carrier.
    That being said, looks like Key Lime agrees to have an interline/codeshare agreement, so the casual traveler shouldn’t ever know the difference. They’ll still walk up and check in at a United check-in desk and remain blissfully unaware that there isn’t a single United employee in the building.

  16. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2021-05-15 12:39

    Interesting, Kyle. I can see the advantage of having that connection with a big carrier. Is Key Lime/Denver’s about the same? Did you notice any other great perks to flying SkyWest that Key Lime might not match and that might fuel such passionate desire for more government spending on EAS in South Dakota?

  17. Observer 2021-05-16 23:07

    Flew out of Chicago to Sioux Falls on a United flight. Before takeoff the flight attendant asked if four men could move to the back of the plane to help out the weight and balance. I joked to the guy next to me that maybe they needed us back there to help push. He wondered if we would have to move to the front when the plane had to land.

  18. Kyle 2021-05-20 09:02

    Since Key Lime would presumably be a “United Express” carrier, it’d be hard to notice the difference— United-proper provides the snacks and the minibar for the flight, so things inside the plane shouldn’t look much different.
    The swap does allot for a Noem based temper tantrum though; change is absolutely the worst.

  19. Francis Schaffer 2023-04-19 19:22

    Have you ever had to be weighed before getting on a flight? I have. When I got on the plane they seated me in the copilot’s seat. Private plane business trip Memphis to Ottumwa and back.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.