Originally Published: May 22, 2005 5 a.m.
PRESCOTT Changes are in store for passengers who fly out of the Prescott Airport on commercial flights.
In two weeks' time, a new carrier will be providing the link between Prescott and Phoenix.
Great Lakes Airlines is set to begin service on Sunday, June 5. That will end a long-time relationship between the City of Prescott and Mesa Airlines, which had been providing the service, as well as an affiliation with America West Airline, for years.
This spring, local officials got the word that state and federal officials had chosen to award the Essential Air Service contract to Great Lakes to provide commercial airline service for Prescott, Kingman, Show Low and Page.
That set off an immediate outcry from local officials and from customers who regularly fly on Mesa and America West. For weeks, the city tried to come up with an alternate plan that would keep Mesa at the Prescott Airport.
That effort was unsuccessful, however, and city officials say they are now working to make Great Lakes as prosperous as possible.
"We're certainly going to support the airline," said Rick Severson, Prescott Airport manager. "We're going to give it our best shot."
Mayor Rowle Simmons agreed. "We've got to put our best foot forward," he said.
Even so, locals still worry that the change will result in fewer local passengers, which could affect Prescott's eligibility for $1 million in Federal Aviation Administration grant money for a new local airport terminal. Airports need at least 10,000 passengers per year to qualify for the grant money.
City Manager Steve Norwood questioned whether that would be realistic now. While Mesa was on track to have as many as 11,000 Prescott passengers this year, Norwood noted that initial figures from Great Lakes showed that "enplanements" in Prescott could drop by as much as 40 percent under the new airline.
But Charles Howell, the CEO for Great Lakes, said he is not ruling out the 10,000 goal. "This community seems vibrant enough, with all of the new growth, that we're confident that we'll do our part," he said.
Norwood said the city's "big concern is pricing and convenience." City officials are hoping to continue working with Great Lakes for improvements in those two areas, he added.
For customers, the main impact will involve the switch in major airlines that tie in with the local carrier. While Mesa had a code-share arrangement with America West, Great Lakes has affiliations with United and Frontier airlines.
Howell maintains that, other than arriving at a different terminal at Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix, the switch to Great Lakes should have minimal impact on local customers.
By the time Great Lakes takes over on June 5, he said, the airline will have a secure arrival area at Terminal 2 at Sky Harbor. Therefore, he said, passengers who are flying out of Terminal 2 will be able to stay within the secure area, and will not go through security again. The airline also will be able to check bags all the way through to the passengers' final destinations, he said, for all airlines except Southwest.
Although the airline initially tried to get access to Terminal 4 (from which America West operates), Howell said that did not happen.
Therefore, to get to airlines that operate out of terminals 3 and 4, Prescott passengers will have to leave the secure area and take a shuttle bus to the appropriate terminal. Monica Taylor, director of sales and marketing for Great Lakes, said that shouldn't take more than 10 or 15 minutes.
In addition to other similarities, the 19-seat airplanes that Great Lakes uses are comparable to those that Mesa uses. And the flight schedule will also be virtually the same. Great Lakes plans three daily flights from Prescott to Phoenix departing at 6:50 a.m., 11:35 a.m., and 4:55 p.m.
For the first two months, Great Lakes will offer an introductory one-way fare of $59 from Prescott to Phoenix. That fare will have limited availability, however, and it will last only until July 31. Taylor said about eight of the 19 seats on each flight would be available at the introductory rate.
Howell maintains that the Prescott-to-Phoenix rate allows passengers flexibility in choosing their connecting airline.
But city officials point out that Mesa offered lower rates for flights between Prescott and Phoenix, and had the added benefit of competitive add-on fares for America West flights.
Although Howell said United and Frontier would also offer add-on fares, local officials say the flight options on those two airlines are more limited than those on America West.
Howell and Taylor said Great Lakes is still working with United and Frontier to clear up issues with booking flights from Prescott. They expect the matter to be resolved within the next few days.
Great Lakes, which operates out of Cheyenne, Wyo., currently serves 39 cities in 10 states. Its service stretches north to Williston, N.D., and south to Silver City, N.M., Amarillo, Texas, and Sierra Vista, Ariz.
Simmons expressed op-timism over Great Lakes' community focus. "I think with Great Lakes, this is really their forte," he said of the service to small commun-ities.
Even so, the lack of access to Terminal 4 still concerns Simmons. "If they could just resolve some of their issues down at Sky HarborŠ" he said.