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Mon, Feb. 17

Hold that flight: Mesa Airlines could stay

PRESCOTT – The city's long-time commercial air service provider, Mesa Airlines, apparently is not out of the picture for the future of the Prescott Airport.

On Tuesday, the Prescott City Council conducted a closed-door executive session discussion about a possible contract with Mesa Airlines.

That comes just two weeks after city officials learned that a different company, the Wyoming-based Great Lakes Airlines, had received a federal contract to provide commercial air service to Prescott and several other rural Arizona communities.

The word that Mesa, along with its affiliation with America West, might be leaving the Prescott Airport set off an outcry from frequent fliers at the Prescott Airport.

Indeed, Prescott Mayor Rowle Simmons noted this week that the possible shakeup at the Prescott Airport has generated "more activity and public input than on any single" recent issue.

City officials and some Mesa Airlines customers feared that the loss of the link with America West and Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport's busy Terminal 4 would severely limit the options for local air passengers.

So when Mesa Airlines recently approached city officials with the prospect of finding a way to stay in Prescott, Simmons said city officials decided to explore the possibility.

"Mesa Airlines approached us" and presented the idea for a contract, Simmons said Tuesday evening. During the executive session, he said the council "decided to ask them to bring us a contract and let us see where they're at."

At this point, Simmons noted that "there are a lot of loose ends and unanswered questions."

For instance, he acknowledged that "it is a possibility" that the city might offer a subsidy to Mesa to entice the company to stay at the Prescott Airport. "But we don't know the details," Simmons added.

Currently, Mesa receives a federal Essential Air Service (EAS) subsidy to provide service to the Prescott Airport. But with the new air service contract, that subsidy will go to Great Lakes.

While the city waits to hear back from Mesa, it is also awaiting further information from Great Lakes about the service that airline will provide when it takes on the contract – probably in about June.

After meeting with Great Lakes representatives this past week, Simmons said city officials hope to hear within two to three weeks about the possibility of the airline getting access to Sky Harbor's Terminal 4. "That will be really crucial," Simmons said of any future city decisions about Prescott's air service.

Throughout the recent discussions, Simmons said he has been in frequent contact with officials with the Arizona Department of Transportation, which is administering the federal grant that brought about the joint air service contract.

"We want to coordinate anything we do with ADOT," Simmons said. "We want to work within the framework of the Department of Transportation's goals."

City officials say the council discussed the Mesa Airlines matter in executive session because of the sensitive nature of the contract information. The Arizona Open Meeting Law allows public bodies to meet behind closed doors when discussing a number of matters, including contract negotiations.

Contact the reporter at cbarks@prescottaz.com

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