SeaPort Takes Flight in Visalia

SeaPort employees Gustavo Mora, Tabitha Boese (station manager) and Yendis Sanchez work at the airline’s new Visalia counter. Photo by Nancy Vigran.
SeaPort employees Gustavo Mora, Tabitha Boese (station manager) and Yendis Sanchez work at the airline’s new Visalia counter. Photo by Nancy Vigran.

The much anticipated SeaPort Airlines had its first flights arrive and take-off from Visalia on February 9, with planes nearly full. The new airline service ties the South Valley with direct flights to Burbank and Sacramento, seven days per week. Flights are available four times a day, weekdays, with one flight to each destination on weekends.

During a ribbon-cutting ceremony on the inaugural day, Visalia Airport Manager Mario Cifuentez said, “We haven’t had four flights a day since 2001, when we had flights to LAX (Los Angeles International Airport).”

The Portland-based airlines flies nine-seat, single-engine Cessna 208 Caravan turboprop airplanes to other destinations along the West Coast and in the mid-South. The one-hour-15-minute flight from Visalia to Burbank extends on to San Diego, where a change of planes can fly passengers on to San Felipe, Mexico.

“Visalia is an underserved market,” said Rob McKinney, President of SeaPort Airlines. “I flew in on the first flight and it was nearly full.”

Indeed, the airlines has indicated that many of its flights, during the first couple of weeks operating in Visalia, were and are full or near capacity. But, the airline must see continued success to keep the Visalia market open.

SeaPort Airlines flies the Cessna Caravan 208 from Visalia to Burbank and Sacramento.
SeaPort Airlines flies the Cessna Caravan 208 from Visalia to Burbank and Sacramento.

Airlines receive subsidies from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Essential Air Service program to serve smaller markets like Visalia throughout the country. New limits on subsidies must now fall under a $200 per passenger average, to keep operations going.

McKinney said, he is confident that SeaPort can do this. The airlines will need to fly approximately 9,400 passengers per year to and from Visalia.

“It usually takes about a year to judge,” McKinney said, referring to passenger usage.

The number of flights can be changed within fairly short notice, if needed, he said. So can flight destinations. However, McKinney said he is pleased with the service to the state’s capitol and Burbank.

SeaPort service started the day following the last flight of Great Lakes Airlines, which had serviced Visalia since 2008 and flew from Visalia to Los Angeles International Airport. Low passenger usage on Great Lakes aided the Visalia City Council’s decision for the change to SeaPort. In fact, Great Lakes averaged about 5,200 passengers during its last year with Visalia.

The airline has a two-year contract to service Visalia, which McKinney said he hopes will last long in to the future.

SeaPort is offering a $39 one-way special price with tickets purchased by March 15. Tickets must be used by March 31. Regular pricing will then range from $49 to $99, dependent upon final destination location.

For more ticketing information call: 888-573-2767, or visit Seaport on the web at: www.seaportairlines.com.

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