PIERRE, S.D. - Pierre Mayor Steve Harding announced Tuesday at the City Commission meeting that he and other community leaders would throw open the doors for a gala open house just after the noon hour, Wednesday, April 3, when the first flight on a Skywest/United jet is due back from Denver after leaving Pierre that morning

“We’re going to have a ribbon-cutting,’” he said. “It will land about 1:34 p.m.” so the party and open house will begin about 1 p.m., Harding said.

It’s a big deal because since Pierre suddenly lost its only scheduled passenger air service Jan. 17 when California Pacific abruptly quit flying the 12 weekly flights to Denver and left its keys on the counter, in a literal way, said Mike Isaacs, manager of the Pierre Regional Airport.

That left this rather remote community even more remote and spurred community leaders to quickly seek federal approval to select a new one under the federally subsidized Essential Air Service program of the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Utah-based SkyWest Airlines was awarded a two-year EAS contract by DOT and will pick up its first Pierre passengers just before 10 a.m., April 3.

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SkyWest also will begin flights to Watertown the same day; six flights each week to each city direct to and from Denver and six flights of Watertown-Pierre-Denver. It means many more seats each week for Pierre passengers than California Pacific and Aerodynamics Inc., provided from August 2016-Jan. 17, 2019. California Pacific later informed the DOT it simply couldn’t keep flying, without enough planes or pilots, or apparently, finances.

The flights will be United Express operating as SkyWest, much the same as the situation in Rapid City and Sioux Falls, Isaacs said.

The jets will be 50-seat Bombardier CRJ200s with the United logo painted on them, Layne Watson, SkyWest spokesman, told the Capital Journal on Tuesday.

“SkyWest is still accepting applications for exceptional candidates in both locations (Pierre and Watertown),” he said via email “Interested professionals can apply at www.skywest.com/careers.

The flight schedule in April will be departing Pierre at about 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. and returning from Denver at about 1:30 p.m. and about 10:45 p.m..

But on April 29, the morning flights will shift to earlier departures from Pierre and Watertown, Watson said.