The order temporarily prohibits Delta from leaving the Aberdeen Regional Airport because the airline is the last remaining carrier serving the city.
Delta filed a notice of termination of services for Aberdeen and 23 other rural airports on July 14, saying it was losing money on those flights.
The order prohibits Delta from leaving Aberdeen and 22 other cities and calls for bids from airlines that want to serve those cities. Bids must be received in 30 days.
A key part of the order is that the Department of Transportation will allow carriers to bid on serving groups of airports, said Mike Wilson, Aberdeen Regional Airport manager.
"That may impact Aberdeen if a carrier groups Aberdeen with other airports," he said. "The bids can stipulate all or none."
For example, if a smaller carrier bids on Aberdeen, Watertown, Jamestown and Thief River Falls, Minn., as a group, the Department of Transportation may award the bid to that carrier rather than Delta because it does not want the smaller cities to lose services, he said.
"That is where it could get interesting," he said.
The Department of Transportation does take into consideration the wishes of a city. If Aberdeen wants a particular airline, that will be considered in the decision-making process, Wilson said.
"I have been told that Delta will bid to serve Aberdeen, but they will not bid on all cities,” he said.
Delta has indicated it wants to serve Aberdeen, but it wants a federal subsidy to do so, he said.
Pierre is the only city where Delta will be allowed to terminate services. Great Lakes Airline will be the remaining airline there.
Of the 24 cities on the termination-of-services list, Aberdeen was one of eight airports not receiving a subsidy.
The filing of a notice of termination is the first step in applying for one. Receiving a subsidy does not guarantee that an airline will bid on a particular airport.
Delta may not bid on several smaller airports already receiving subsidies, such as Watertown and Jamestown, N.D., because the company is phasing out its 32-passenger turboprops and replacing them with 50-passenger jets, Wilson said. Passenger counts are lower in those cities and might not be able to support a 50-passenger jet, he said.
The news that Delta is being allowed to discontinue service at Pierre was surprising, Wilson said.
"A previous federal service level order gave Pierre carrier service in two directions," he said. "Delta went east to Minneapolis and Great Lakes flew west to Denver. Now Pierre travelers can only head west."
If a Delta bid for Aberdeen is accepted, it will include a per passenger subsidy.
"The federal government can not hold Delta here without a subsidy," Wilson said. "That would be like forcing a private business to operate at a loss."
The company is attempting to halt $14 million in annual loses, according to a Delta news release.