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8:12 AM Thu, Nov. 15th

Council: Promotion of flights is futile

PRESCOTT – Short of a switch in terminals at Phoenix’s Sky Harbor Airport, Prescott officials seem to be out of ideas for how to improve passenger numbers on commercial flights between Prescott and Phoenix.

At their study session on Tuesday, members of the Prescott City Council appeared poised to turn down about $54,000 in grant money for promotion of Great Lakes Airlines’ Prescott-to-Phoenix flights.

The official vote won’t take place until Dec. 13, but a majority of council members indicated this week that they would not vote for the grant.

In order to get the money, the city would have to spend $6,000 of its own – a prospect that did not sit well with several council members.

“Why would we support service this lousy?” asked Councilman Bob Roecker. “Why throw $6,000 away?”

Mayor Rowle Simmons agreed. “It’s a waste of money,” he said after Tuesday’s meeting. Simmons maintained that the problem with the passenger numbers relates to the fact that Great Lakes flies into Terminal 2, rather than Terminal 4, at Sky Harbor. Unless the airline changes terminals, Simmons said, advertising would not help.

For several months, the number of passengers on Great Lakes’ flights between Prescott and Phoenix has hovered at just more than 200 paying customers per month. That is down significantly from the more than 800 passengers per month this past spring, when Mesa Airlines was providing the service.

City officials fought the change from Mesa to Great Lakes earlier this year, but the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Arizona Department of Transportation Aeronautics Division, which administered the program, ultimately chose Great Lakes under a consortium of five rural airports, of which Prescott was a part.

Since Great Lakes took over in June, city officials have held out hope that the airline would negotiate a way to gain access to Sky Harbor’s Terminal 4. Simmons maintains that is crucial for passengers.

“The reasons for the problem tend to be the convenience factor,” he said, adding that Terminal 2, with its access to United and Frontier airlines, does not meet the needs of local passengers. Also, he said, “the fares are not always competitive.”

The money for promotions would be part of the $1.8 million Small Community Air Service pilot program grant that resulted in the contract with Great Lakes to serve the airports at Prescott, Page, Kingman, Sierra Vista, and Show Low.

Marketing and promotion was part of the program, Airport Manager Rick Severson said, adding that the program split the promotional money to award $53,745 to each airport.

Finding an effective marketing strategy for the airport “would be a real challenge,” Severson said. “It’s difficult to come up with a happy face.”

Although the city would be turning down the promotional money, Severson stressed that the decision would not affect Prescott’s participation in the Essential Air Service program, which subsidizes the commercial airline service.

Prior to the change in airlines, city officials were hopeful that the Prescott Airport would reach the 10,000-passenger mark this year, which would make the community eligible for federal assistance with a new airport terminal.

While Severson said the airport was in a good position to reach that mark under Mesa, the total passenger count so far this year now stands at 5,106.

Simmons said he believes a city rejection of the promotional money “will definitely send a signal to ADOT (Arizona Department of Transportation) that until they resolve the critical service issues, the city’s not going to be wasting its money.”

Contact the reporter at cbarks@prescottaz.com