VISALIA, Calif. (KFSN) --At the Visalia Airport, private planes are the only aircraft's using the runways after the city's recent commercial carrier left the South Valley. Their departure meant an exit out of a federal subsidy program, but a new beginning in the Department of Transportation's Community Flexibility pilot program.
"We came to the realization that our service had continued to get worse and worse and we needed to look at some alternatives. This program allows us to take a 10 year hiatus from subsidized service and we get two years' worth of our most recent subsidy which amounts of $3.7 million," said Mario Cifuentez, Visalia Airport Manager.
Cifuentez said city leaders made the decision to apply for the program after being on the fringe of getting booted from the subsidy program, which helps pay to keep commercial airlines in rural areas. He said there were not enough passengers flying and costs were rising.
"I make the case this doesn't necessarily mean the end of air service in Visalia. It means that if any air carrier had an interest in Visalia, they would have to do so, subsidy free for at least the next ten years."
For now, Visalia continues to provide the V-line for those heading to the airport or Fresno-- the bus operate six to seven times a day.
As far as the pilot program, Visalia is the first city in the nation to take advantage of the program. The money will be used for improvements. About 20 T-hangars will be built for smaller planes and two large hangars for commercial jets.
"Currently we have 13 people on a hangar waiting list that wish to base their aircraft here. It will allow for our current commercial operators to grow. We have two operators that have expressed an interest and at a minimum will provide a $130,000 a year in new revenue to the airport," said Cifuentez.
The project will go out to bid this spring and officials say the hangars will be constructed this summer and ready to house airplanes.