At first they didn’t succeed, so they tried again.
The second time was the charm for Lea County staff in finding federal funding to help subsidize FlyHobbs’ upcoming service to Denver.
Through a contact with Sen. Martin Heinrich’s office, Lea County officials were told Thursday it was awarded $800,000 in federal grant funding through the CARES Act that will be used to help subsidize the once-suspended Hobbs-to-Denver direct flights. The grant application process was done through staff members with Lea County and the Economic Development Corporation of Lea County, which acts as the steward of the FlyHobbs direct-flight air service from Hobbs to Houston and Denver with United Airlines. Several other entities, from the City of Hobbs, to the Permian Strategic Partnership, to state and federally-elected officials, all wrote letters of support for the grant.
“I think it’s important to note this was a collaborative effort involving, not only the County (and) the EDCLC,” Lea County Manager Mike Gallagher. “The County staff our Assistant County Manager Corey Needham has done a spectacular job. I think this flight service and this grant, we would not have been able to do this without his work. All of Lea County should be proud of the EDCLC and the County staff in bringing home some federal funds.”
Gallagher said this is the second time Lea County applied for this grant. Before Hobbs to Denver service started in the fall of 2019, Needham and his staff completed the grant application’s paperwork but the county was turned down for any funding. During the COVID-19 pandemic they tried again and received the funding.
Jennifer Grassham, EDCLC president and CEO, said the funding comes from the U.S. Department of Transportation, through an attachment in the CARES Act called the Small Community Air Service Development Program, which helps small communities address air service and airfare issues.
“How great is our partnership with the county getting this grant request?” Grassham said. “It really was a fantastic partnership of people putting everything into this.”
While details are coming, all local officials know is the $800,000 can be used as a subsidy for the Denver flight service. According to. , the earliest flight available is Oct. 31. Grassham said that is because United Airlines officials create their flight crew schedules up to three months in advance.
At the height of the Houston/Denver air services out of Hobbs, Houston flights were averaging around 75 percent capacity while the Denver flights were less than that. However EDCLC staff said the popularity of the daily Denver flight was rapidly growing. That was in February 2020. A month later the pandemic struck, causing flight service to almost stop. The Denver flights were suspended while the Houston flights went from two a day to about three a week.
Last week the Hobbs City Commission and the Lea County Commission each approved resolutions to provide up to $1.15 million in subsidy funding for the Houston flights. Currently there is one flight in and out of Hobbs to Houston, but Gallagher told the Hobbs commission that would change to 11 flights per week.
Grassham, Gallagher and Hobbs Mayor Sam Cobb each stated the additional Houston flights and the return of the Denver flights will add to the quality of life for Lea County residents. Both flights are roughly about 1 hour, 45 minutes.
“I think the Denver flight was very popular with the local community for both business and recreational purposes,” Cobb said. “We are going to sit down with the County and United Airlines and see if we can work out a schedule that would be beneficial for business and recreational purposes for the community.”
Gallagher said that while the County has not received the funding, getting a call from Heinrich’s office stating it was on its way was a great ending to a good week for the Fly-Hobbs program. The additional flights are beneficial now that Lea Regional Airport is operating its 10,000-square-foot terminal expansion, along with additional parking and a new airport fire station.
“That terminal is designed for us to add additional flights,” Gallagher said. “So the timing of this Denver flight, with the 11 flights to Houston, this is exactly what this type of more continuous air service we have been trying to achieve.”