The two airlines were the lone bidders to serve the Sioux City airport under the Essential Air Service program, which guarantees commercial air travel for small, rural communities. Thursday was the deadline for carriers to submit new two-year proposals to the U.S. Department of Transportation.
The bids released Friday show each carriers would offer at least 13 connecting flights per week to Chicago's O'Hare International Airport. United's proposed subsidy, however, came in nearly $950,000 less per year than American's bid.
United has proposed a subsidy of $324,159 per year, compared to American's proposed $1.26 million.
American currently receives a subsidy of $611,335 per year under a two-year EAS contract set to expire May 1. The last time the DOT took bids for the routes, American's bid came in well under United's request for a $1.41 million subsidy.
Now, the tables have turned.
The difference in price will be one of the factors the DOT will consider in selecting one of the two airlines, according to agency officials. Another important criteria will be community input.
City leaders were not tipping their hand Friday on which carrier they favored.
“We’re excited we got two bids,” said Sioux Gateway director Mike Collett, who declined to elaborate on the bids.
Airport officials have been generally pleased with American's service, pointing out on average that about 80 percent of the seats have been full.
Mayor Bob Scott said he wasn’t too surprised United bid again this time.
The mayor added it was “encouraging” that United mentioned potential flights to Denver in its bid.
While not part of its official proposal, United said successful Chicago flights could lead to "Denver service in the future." United is the largest carrier at both O'Hare and Denver International Airport.
In their bids, both United and American propose to use 50-seat regional jets for the Sioux Gateway flights. American's routes would be flown by American Eagle, a regional partner.
American, based in Fort Worth, Texas, started serving Sioux Gateway under the EAS program in April 2012, replacing the previous carrier, Delta, which flew connecting routes to Minneapolis-St. Paul.