SeaPort Airlines taking over air service in Visalia

VISALIA, Calif. (KFSN) -- Air service in the city of Visalia is changing. A new airliner is coming to town, with hopes of keeping the service alive in the South Valley.

SeaPort Airlines will be taking over air service in Visalia. The planes will be smaller and fly lower. But the airliner has a big task on its hands if they want to serve the city long term.

This Great Lakes Airlines plane will soon no longer be flying the skies of Visalia. Recent changes to essential Air Service program, or EAS, require stricter guidelines in order for small air service communities, like Visalia, to continue to receive subsidies from the federal government.

The change made city officials realize Great Lakes Airlines couldn't help them meet the requirements. This week, council members agreed to sign on with SeaPort air in hopes of keeping air service alive in Visalia.

"The city is made up of all sorts of different components; it's part of a fabric, it certainly helps to make the fabric of Visalia more interesting to have an airport, so we hope it can stay," said Visalia Deputy City Manager Eric Frost.

Air travel from Visalia will no longer go to LAX. Instead, SeaPort Air will use its 41-foot-long turboprop nine-seater to fly passengers to Burbank and Oakland. SeaPort will provide two non-stops to each city a day.

"It's a convenient experience, and so we like to provide them with a convenient experience on the other end," said Tim Sieber with SeaPort Airlines.

The plane will have two pilots and fly lower since it's not an air-pressurized plane.

SeaPort Air wanted to come to Visalia to further expand its service in California. The Burbank-bound plane will then head to San Diego before returning back to Visalia.

"The highest fare would be $99, the lowest fare would be $49 depending on the amount of advance purchase," said Sieber.

The new EAS requirements mean SeaPort Air must have four to five passengers on each flight, which is something Great Lakes struggled with. If they can't keep up that capacity over the next year, air service in Visalia could be eliminated.

"If they don't meet the targets on subsidies for this next year then we won't have any airline system, and that's going to be a stretch even for SeaPort to make," said Frost.

SeaPort Air needs final approval from the Department of Transportation before it can offer air travel in Visalia, but they expect to be up and running by early next year.

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