How in the world does a village like TVF with only 8600 people and only about 50 miles from GFK get service with 50-seat jets? Ok, sometimes its a 30-seat jet. I'm all for EAS but really, TVF should have a carrier like Cape or Southern Express so the jets and crews could be used for much bigger markets.
That's kind of a misconception about EAS and aircraft type. The proposals from RJ operators are usually competitive or even less than those from the 9-seat operators.
In the case of Thief River Falls nobody else qualified even submitted a bid. But RJ bids are often quite competitive or even cheaper than the props. Take a look at Fort Dodge's recent bid where Skywest CRJ's beat out 9-seat props by Boutique, Air Choice One and DAC (as well as DAC FRJ's). Skywest's bid was $3.0m annually for three years. The same three years would have been an annual subsidy from just under $2.9m to nearly $3.3m by the 9-seat operators. How can that be?
1. The 9-seat airlines usually have to fly at least twice as many flights to meet the EAS minimum capacity requirements.
Based on historical traffic the DoT expects a minimum capacity, and so a market with 2x RJ typically needs 4-5x flights on a 9-seater. And while those smaller aircraft are far cheaper to operate and staff that advantage fades fast when you have to operate twice as many flights.
2. Costs are also helped by economies of scale
Notably for Skywest and the other code-share jet EAS markets (UA* bid by UA directly and the AA* markets) they are using surplus aircraft and serving hubs where there's little marginal added cost. If (for example) Southern was to have bid for Fort Dodge with flights to STL and MSP that would have meant the EAS bid must cover the costs of new stations in STL and MSP, an aircraft based far from the rest of their network and all the associated support services for it, and a new pilot base to staff those flights. For Skywest to fly to FOD none of that is necessary because all that infrastructure already exists.
3. The RJ bids typically project serving far more passengers than the 9-seat bids, so the revenue side of the picture is far stronger and thus helps lower the subsidy requirement. At more marginal markets where the RJ's may struggle to fill 50% of seats like FOD the bids of 9-seat airlines are usually competitive. But at bigger EAS stations where UA* DL* or AA* may fill 60-70% or more the the 9-seat airlines don't even bother bidding for because their subsidy needs would be far higher.
The most recent FOD and MCW bids are summarized here:.https://www.regulations.gov/document/DO ... 10684-0158
The other thing is that by serving a higher volume of passengers the RJ bid gets more bang for the buck. Now as along as the market stays below the per-passenger subsidy cap (usually $200 unless exceptionally remote) this is not a big factor in selection. Total cost and community support are. But the EAS program is much more defensible when it serves more passengers. The markets which flirt with the $200 per passenger cap are nearly always being served by 9-seat operators, and some of those same at-risk communities operate comfortably below that cap when switched to an RJ.
So while it may seem that EAS choosing an RJ bid is tax money paying for steak when a hamburger would do, it's really not. The RJ bids are typically competitive or cheaper than 9-seat bids in actual dollars, and the per-passenger subsidy is usually far less.