Great Lakes Airlines Official Grand Opening

September 30, 2008 9:53:15 PM PDT
The airline now flying from Merced and Visalia marked the start of its service in the valley.Great Lakes Airlines held its official grand opening after three weeks of flights from Merced and Visalia to Ontario in southern California.

"Our advance bookings are looking better and better every day."

Both airline and airport officials say they have a lot to celebrate.

Merced Airport Superintendent Ron Elliot said, "Sunday we had our first sell out flight, we had 19 passengers get on in Ontario and half got off in Visalia and half got off in Merced, so that was quite a milestone just 3 weeks into it to have your first sellout."

Ron Elliot says ticket sales have risen sharply since the first week when only eight passengers boarded flights from Merced municipal.

Elliot said, "This week we'll do over 40, and we've already sold 80 advance tickets that are coming up the next week or two."

Great Lakes started its service from Merced and Visalia after Mesa Airlines pulled out, leaving the cities without any flights for three months. Both airports have seen a number of carriers come and go, but Great Lakes says it's here to stay.

Monica Taylor of Great Lakes Airlines said, "We specialize in these niche markets, and we've been around for 30 years and we're not going anywhere. We're one of the very few airlines that are making money and expanding in the economic times that we have right now."

Sales and Marketing Manager Monica Taylor says Great Lakes is different because it's the largest essential air service provider in the country. That means it receives a federal subsidy to serve smaller cities.

Taylor said, "Every 2 years these contracts come up so we're able to re-negotiate with the government and say our operational costs have gone up significantly because of the fuel costs and when that happens we're able to get that reimbursed from the federal government."

Now the airline is focusing on filling its 19 passenger planes more often so it can offer more additional flights to Ontario and more destinations down the road.

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