Merced & Visalia's Airline Search

May 29, 2008 9:43:19 PM PDT
The cities of Merced and Visalia are now asking the federal government for permission to find a new airline.Mesa Airlines will stop serving Merced and Visalia on May 31st. Great Lakes Aviation was supposed to take over June first. But now the airline says it's not ready, and both cities say they can't wait any longer.

Great Lakes Aviation representatives flew into Merced and Visalia last August with the promise of 14 flights a week to Las Vegas from each city. But now that promise may be a thing of the past.

Mike Conway, City of Merced Spokesperson: "We were awarded a contract with Great Lakes Airlines, and for a variety of reasons, particularly the high cost of fuel, they haven't been able to start their air service here."

Mesa Airlines also cited record high fuel prices when it announced plans to end all of its air Midwest service at the end of the month, including flights from Merced and Visalia. But now that no replacement airline is scheduled to arrive any time soon, both cities are asking the federal government for help.

Mike Conway: "Right now the city of Merced has asked the Department of Transportation to re-bid the contract for Essential Air Service."

The essential air service contract includes a federal subsidy that funds passenger flights in rural communities. City officials say the department of transportation has agreed to issue an expedited request for new bids that will be due by June 13th. But in the meantime, passengers will have to fly out of other cities.

Ray Hayes, Merced Resident: "Hopefully they can get that out and give us some service because we need service in the area."

Merced residents say it's inconvenient and costly to have to drive to other area airports. And Visalia's airport director says the gap in service comes at a time when passenger totals are the highest they've been since 2001. Now both cities are just hoping another carrier will take the controls soon.

An agreement is in the works right now to bring passenger service to Merced County's Castle Airport starting in July.

Anyone who booked flights here at Merced municipal for after May 31st can call U.S. Airways to be re-routed or to request a refund.


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