Three air carriers are vying to provide service to Visalia in the wave of SeaPort Airlines’ unexpected departure.
Boutique Air, Great Lakes Airlines and Mokulele Airlines have submitted a bid to the Department of Transportation to provide service from Visalia; all three previously bid in 2014, when SeaPort was awarded service.
Kailua-Kona, Hawaii-based Mokulele Airlines bid to provide 48 weekly flights from Visalia to Los Angeles International (LAX) using a nine-passenger Cessna Caravan, the same type of aircraft that SeaPort flew. Mokulele is a new entrant to California; it currently provides service in Hawaii, Pennsylvania and New York.
The carrier stated in its bid that it would have “comfortably configured vans” to drive passengers to a nearby airport in the event of an unrecoverable delay or cancellation, and that it is working on an agreement with the Fresno-Yosemite International Airport to reroute passengers there in the event of heavy fog or inclement weather at Visalia as a way to avoid cancelling flights.
The airline said it currently has interline agreements–which allow passengers to fly multiple carriers without re-checking their bags–with Alaska Airlines, Air New Zealand and Island Air.
Mokulele’s subsidy pricing is tied into whether Imperial/El Centro, another ex-SeaPort community, also chooses the carrier, and the length of contract it is awarded. If both communities choose Mokulele and it is provided a four-year contract, its requested subsidy for Visalia service would be $2.1m for its first year of service and $2m for subsequent years.
Cheyenne, Wyoming-based Great Lakes Airlines, Visalia’s air carrier prior to SeaPort, also bid for service from Visalia to LAX with two round-trips per day in a 19-passenger pressurized Beechcraft 1900, the same type of aircraft it used to previously service Visalia.
In its bid, the airline touts interline agreements with American Airlines, Delta Airlines and United Airlines, including the ability to earn SkyMiles on Delta. It is requesting a subsidy of $2.6m per year on a two-year contract.
San Francisco-based Boutique Air, which currently provides service to Merced, submitted two separate bids: one for service from Visalia to LAX and Oakland, and another for service from Visalia to LAX and Sacramento, both with two round trips per day. The airline would provide service in a 9-passenger pressurized Pilatus PC-12, which it says is equipped with power outlets and an enclosed lavatory.
If chosen to provide service to Visalia and Oakland, the airline would require a $3.5m subsidy per year. If it provides service to Sacramento, it would instead request $3.6m per year.
“We have three good bids,” said Visalia Vice-Mayor Warren Gubler, who serves on the Airport Advisory Committee. “They actually look like good bids.”
The committee plans to meet next week and prepare its recommendation for the Visalia City Council. The topic is planned for the next regular council meeting agenda on Tuesday, February 16 in order to meet DOT community comment deadline of February 25.
“It’s all moving very fast,” Gubler said.
In the meantime, SeaPort Airlines filed for Chapter 11, it announced Friday, February 5. Former company president, Rob McKinney, has resigned, and former vice president, Tim Seiber, is now president, according to a press release.
“That certainly explains why they pulled out of California,” Gubler said. “I don’t think it in anyway diminishes the service they provided for us.
“But, we got stung by SeaPort, and we don’t want that to happen again.”
The other option, for Visalia, is to consider a Federal Aviation Administration temporary buyout, in which the city would receive a sizeable amount of money to upgrade the airport, making it attractive to corporate jets and/or another freight carrier. For the next 10 years, the airport would not be open for passenger service.
The bid documents are available to view, embedded, below. Public comments may be submitted at Regulations.gov, docket ID DOT-OST-2004-19916-0110, or by clicking here.