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5:16 AM Thu, Nov. 15th

Prescott optingto fly with Mesa, despite advice

PRESCOTT – Mesa Airlines is still the choice of the City of Prescott, despite a recommendation by a state committee to switch to another carrier.

After a months-long process that aimed to improve rural airline service, city officials are recommending the status quo.

About a year ago, the city got word that the federal government had awarded a $1.5 million Small Community Air Service Development Pilot Program grant, which would cover the cost of a study on how to improve air service for five rural communities in Arizona.

Prescott was one of those communities, along with Kingman, Page, Show Low and Sierra Vista. One of the objectives of the study was to go out for proposals from airlines to see if one company could provide air service more efficiently to all five communities.

Currently, Mesa Air Group serves Prescott and Kingman, while the other three communities get air service from Great Lakes Airlines.

Officials with the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) Aeronautics Department, which is ad-ministering the program, said at the time that grouping the five communities together should result in "an economy of scale," and ultimately should improve service for all five.

But city officials maintain that the recommendation that came out of the request for proposals (RFP) would not be an improvement for Prescott. They are recommending that the city stick with Mesa.

The issue came up during the council's study session on Tuesday. The council likely will vote on the matter on Nov. 23.

Most of the people who spoke this week urged Prescott to stay with Mesa Air Group for its airline service.

Airport Manager Rick Severson started off the discussion by pointing out that he and local businessman Malcolm Barrett Jr. served on a committee that reviewed the four proposals that the RFP generated.

After evaluating the proposals, the committee voted 8-3 to recommend that Great Lakes should serve all five communities. Severson said the three votes in opposition came from Prescott and Kingman representatives.

"It was the opinion of the Prescott representatives that what Great Lakes was offering was a reduction of our present service," Severson told the council.

City officials were especially concerned that a switch to Great Lakes would eliminate the city's existing affiliation with America West, through Mesa. Because of that affiliation, they said, passengers who board Mesa airplanes in Prescott have to go through security checks only once – at the Prescott Airport. When they get to Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix, Prescott passengers reach a secure gate at the terminal.

In contrast, Severson said, Great Lakes "uses a non-sterile gate at terminal two outside the security area."

Although Prescott officials have had concerns with Mesa's service in the past, Severson said the city now has "a good relationship" with the company. And after Mesa added a third flight in 2003 and reduced fares between Prescott and Phoenix, the number of passengers boarding in Prescott has increased dramatically.

Mickey Bowman, director of planning for Mesa Air Group, maintained that the company's relationship with America West helps to bring "high-quality service" to the community.

But Charles Howell, chief executive officer for Great Lakes, told the council that his company also is working to get a secured area at Sky Harbor, and that Great Lakes also could offer high quality service to Prescott.

Mayor Rowle Simmons said he had heard from a number of residents who were concerned that the community would lose the connection with America West if it severed its ties with Mesa Air Group.

"It is a big deal, with being able to tie in with a national airline," Simmons said.

The council also heard from representatives of the Prescott Chamber of Commerce, the Prescott Valley Economic Development Corporation, and the general public, all of whom urged the city to stay with Mesa.