State clips Wings of South Dakota

South Dakota State Roundup

Published July 1, 1992  | July 1992 issue

When Wings of South Dakota, the nation's first intrastate air service, took to the air in October 1990 the state and participating communities were optimistic about its success.

But travel habits, scheduling problems and lack of ridership, among other issues, combined to doom the service to failure after only five months of operation.

A recent report prepared by the state Department of Transportation details the process by which the air service was created—and the reasons for its demise, including:

  • The air service could not convince enough people to exchange a three-hour drive for a short airline flight.
  • There was a lack of marketing time to inform the public before flight service began.
  • Because legislation restricted the air service from competing with any existing South Dakota business, potential revenue from freight contracts was lost.
  • Although nearly one-fourth of the potential passengers identified in a feasibility study were associated with Rapid City, that community did not participate in the service because at the time it was adequately served by commercial flights.
  • It was not efficient or cost effective to include some smaller cities in the initial routes because of expected low passenger counts.

The short time in which the system operated did not allow for any mistakes, nor did it allow adequate time to fully develop the potential passenger base, says David Jagim, state Office of Aeronautics administrator. A long-term commitment is needed from local and state political bodies to establish and operate a viable, complete intrastate airline system, Jagim adds.

In addition, a stronger commitment and investment by the carrier would add to the success of the service. "Making the airline a partner, giving them a greater stake in the operation, might have generated more participation in planning and marketing the service," Jagim says. "We probably shouldn't have guaranteed the provider to the extent that we did." Any subsequent carrier's contract would need to include specific clauses spelling out penalties for failure to meet maintenance and schedule responsibilities.

But Jagim doesn't see a revival of in-state air service in the foreseeable future. If it comes back at all, he says, it would have to be on a smaller scale.

Kathy Cobb