KEARNEY — Flights with PenAir are up, up and underway at Kearney Regional Airport.
The Alaskan airline’s first flight from Kearney to Denver took off Tuesday morning a little after 8 a.m. and touched back down around 4 p.m. Passengers on the return flight were greeted by a cheering crowd in the terminal, and city and airline officials gathered to perform a quick ribbon cutting before the second flight of the day took off.
“The flights were outstanding. We got a few bugs to work out, but that’s to be expected,” Kearney Mayor Stan Clouse said. “We’re just excited to have PenAir as our carrier in Kearney.”
PenAir’s two-year Essential Air Service contract with Kearney, North Platte and Scottsbluff began Tuesday. PenAir Chief Operating Officer Dave Hall thanked the crowd for an “unbelievable welcome.”
“This is just amazing. You don’t see this every day in this business, so this is really phenomenal,” Hall said.
Hall and Clouse said many hours were put into making the transition from Great Lakes Aviation to PenAir.
“We’ve built up to this in the last several months,” Hall said. “If we’re doing something right, let us know. If something needs to be addressed, let us know that, too. That’s important to us.”
The first flight was packed with Kearney officials, including Clouse, City Manager Mike Morgan, council member Bob Lammers, Kearney Visitor’s Bureau Executive Director Roger Jasnoch and Kearney Area Chamber of Commerce President Max Kathol, prompting the mayor to joke that, “We actually had some real paying customers today.”
RosaLee Bishop of Grand Island flew from Kearney Tuesday to meet and spend the week with her sister in Utah. Bishop was unaware she’d booked a ticket on PenAir’s first flight out of Kearney until the night before when she saw news about it. Bishop said she was excited about the inaugural flight and took pictures of the flight crew, media and other passengers for her scrapbook.
“I’m looking forward to being on the first flight with a new airline,” she said. “I’ve heard positive things about (PenAir) from people who have flown with them before.”
Bishop said she’s had good experiences flying from Kearney, and prefers the convenience of the direct flight to the Denver.
The flight was slightly delayed because of pilot rest rules, and the return flight was delayed because of a minor mechanical issue. Once the plane was in the air, service went smoothly and comfortably. PenAir operates a 30-seat Saab 340 aircraft, which is a prop plane. Ear plugs were given passengers on the first flight.
Complimentary beverages and snacks were served before the plane landed in Denver International Airport and taxied to the far end of Concourse A. Staff at PenAir’s DIA check-in desk were still learning the ropes, but helpful and courteous.
Clouse said he encountered city officials from North Platte in Denver after their own first flight arrived and said he believes they’re just as excited as Kearney to have a new carrier.
“I know it’s going to be a long and lasting relationship for air service out of Kearney,” he said.
Flights from Denver to Kearney run twice daily. For more information, visit www.flykearney.com.
By JESSICA KOKESH
Hub Staff Writer