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"Editorial: Business leaders shape California airports future"
Friday, June 1, 2012
Business leaders shape airport future
The Modesto (CA) Bee
The question is not what kind of air service we'd like to have at the
Modesto Airport. That would be an easy answer for most residents: Cheap and
on-time flights on big, smooth-flying jets to San Francisco, Los Angeles and
one or two other urban hubs, maybe Salt Lake City and Portland, Ore., or
The question is what kind of air service will we use - guarantee to use -
and otherwise pay to support? And that question doesn't fall to the
occasional travelers or even to the City Council. It's primarily a question
for the business community.
Modesto Airport Manager Jerome Thiele has invited corporate "decision
makers" to one of several presentations next week to discuss some of the
cold, hard facts about air service in and out of Modesto and, more
important, what they can do to change it.
We assume most of the business executives will be familiar with this
checkered history: That airlines have come and gone over the years but it's
been difficult to keep regular service to anywhere but San Francisco. And
the bad news is that even air traffic to San Francisco is declining.
Thiele provided us the boarding numbers in the chart we present here. The
declining passenger boarding count has prompted SkyWest to announce that in
the fall it will be reducing the number of daily flights out of Modesto from
four to three. Thiele said he doesn't know yet which flight will be dropped.
There's a possibility that SkyWest could further reduce its service between
Modesto and San Francisco. Mostly because of unpredictable weather, the San
Francisco airport has one of the nation's worst on-time flight records. It
is congested and that will be exacerbated with a major runway improvement
project that is getting under way.
Modesto has wanted SkyWest to resume service to Los Angeles, leading to one
idea: Bring back the Los Angeles flights and drop San Francisco service.
That's only a possibility.
Thiele says SkyWest is not interested in the city of Modesto or Stanislaus
County offering some sort of short-term subsidy to improve air service - and
we'll point out that neither government entity has the money to do that
anyway. Modesto received a federal grant that subsidized the Los Angeles
service; it won't be eligible for another one to that hub, according to
Instead, airlines are looking for private sector partnerships and support.
If other communities offer that and Modesto doesn't, then Modesto is likely
to have less air service, not more.
All this falls under the label of air service development, and it is an
element of economic development. Having reliable, regular air service is a
plus for a community to retain and draw new businesses.
Air service development is not primarily a function of government. In some
communities it is a joint government-private sector effort. In others, the
private sector is the driving force. In one Michigan city, a Rotary Club led
the way. In Daytona Beach, Fla., an airport service task force is composed
of business leaders.
Most medium-sized communities want more and better air service - and many,
like Modesto, don't fill the seats they have available. They're losing air
service because they're not using it. Airlines want to make a profit; they
serve communities where they can do that.
Stockton is arguably in worse shape than Modesto. Its lone air carrier is
Allegiant, which offers flights to and from Las Vegas and has announced
plans to start flights to Honolulu in November. Allegiant is oriented to
leisure travel, not to business travel.
Great Lakes Airlines serves Merced, with flights to and from Los Angeles and
Modesto's lone airline, SkyWest, is a regional carrier for United and it
serves both vacation and business travelers. Twenty percent of the people
who fly to San Francisco are using that as a connection to get to one of the
Los Angeles-area airports, That's a useful argument for direct flights to
and from Los Angeles.
Next week's presentations are a starting point. The business leaders who
attend will hear from Mike Mooney from the Sixel Consulting Group, a firm
that specializes in air service development.
The solutions will be challenging, no doubt, but the questions for the
business community are pretty simple: What kind of air service do you want,
and what are you willing to do to get it? Your answers will affect all of
Boardings at the Modesto airport
. 2004 -- 21,574
. 2005 -- 20,557
. 2006 -- 38,127
. 2007 -- 51,587
. 2008 -- 37,825
. 2009 -- 26,783
. 2010 -- 24,334
. 2011 -- 19,163
. 2012 -- 19,000 (est.)
SkyWest offered flights to Los Angeles between June 2006 and June 2008.
Otherwise, the boardings were all to San Francisco.
Source: Modesto Airport
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