Without warning to its passengers or Visalia city staff, SeaPort Airlines discontinued service from Visalia to Burbank and Sacramento on Friday. More than that, the company has ceased all operations within the state.
In fact, a flight leaving from Sacramento at 12:31pm Friday scheduled to fly to Visalia was diverted to Burbank, landing there at 2:29pm, according to FlightAware.
“We have not been contacted by anyone from SeaPort or the Federal Aviation Administration,” said Visalia Mayor Steve Nelsen.
City staff reached out to SeaPort by phone on Friday evening and received confirmation of the discontinuation, but were given no reason, Nelsen said.
“They just said it was effective immediately,” he said. “It’s surprising. It (SeaPort service) was successful. Ridership was up.”
In a press release late Friday evening, SeaPort stated:
“SeaPort Airlines announced that it will discontinue all scheduled service to destinations in California and Mexico as of 11:59pm on January 15, 2016 and Kansas and Missouri as of 11:59pm on January 16, 2015.
The company was forced to take this action because of the impact on SeaPort’s business and operations following the effects of the shortage of airline pilots in the United States. Stations will be closed and service is to be ceased at each of the following cities:
- Sacramento, CA
- Visalia, CA
- Burbank, CA
- San Diego, CA
- Imperial, CA
- San Felipe, BC (Mexico)
- Salina, KS
- Great Bend, KS
- Kansas City, MO
Customers with reservations for impacted routes will be issued a full refund for unused tickets, and should call 888-573-2767 if they have additional questions about their refund.”
SeaPort started operations in Visalia in February of last year with flights to Sacramento and Burbank. The airline was awarded an Essential Air Service (EAS) contract by the Department of Transportation totaling $1,990,563 to provide the flights.
Within the first three months, the airline carried more passengers than Great Lakes Airlines had the previous year, Visalia Airport Manager Mario Cifuentez told the Valley Voice last summer.
Also last August, representatives from the airline said they were very happy with service in Visalia. The only problems showing up at the time were efficiency, SeaPort Executive Vice President Tim Sieber told the Valley Voice.
While the reasoning for shutting service in California is unclear, California is not the only state losing SeaPort service.
A message has been posted to the company’s website saying in part, “We regret to announce that effective 1/15/16, scheduled air service in California, Kansas, Missouri and Mexico have been discontinued. Service in the Pacific Northwest, Arkansas, Tennessee and Texas will continue to operate as scheduled.”
The airline has effectively discontinued service to nine cities within the US, and as of Saturday will only be serving eight.
While the airline had been successful in seat sales on its Visalia flights, often filling its 9-seater, single-turboprop engine Cessna Caravan planes, reviews from passengers on Facebook, Twitter and Yelp have not been positive. The main complaints stem from delays and cancellations.
The City of Visalia will now have many decisions to make; first, though, it has to find out what happened only 11 months into its two-year contract. The city has placed calls to senior staff of the airline as well as the FAA.
In order to serve Visalia residents and Tulare County as a whole, city council and staff may have to scramble.
At the time SeaPort was awarded the Visalia EAS contract, several other airlines fought to serve the Visalia market including Cheyenne, Wyoming-based Great Lakes Airlines, which formerly flew from Visalia to Los Angeles, and San Francisco-based Boutique Air, which was recently awarded the contract for the Merced Regional Airport, and currently flies to Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and Oakland.
There are, undoubtedly, airlines that would like to serve the community. But just how fast decisions can be made and service can be operational is unknown at this time.