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Sat, Jan. 18

Web Exclusive: Would a direct flight to Vegas help Prescott?

PRESCOTT - With its myriad tourist attractions and busy airport, Las Vegas offers Prescott a tempting alternative for an airline connection.

The idea, which came up briefly in the U.S. Department of Transportation's recent request for proposals for a new air service contract for the Prescott Airport, has locals examining the merits of having a non-stop flight to Las Vegas vs. the existing connection to Phoenix.

And for most local experts, is seems, a connecting flight between Prescott and Las Vegas' McCarran International Airport would be most attractive if an airline were to couple it with the existing link with Phoenix's Sky Harbor.

"My hope is that it is not one or the other," Prescott Valley Economic Development Director Greg Fister said recently of the prospect of adding a Las Vegas connection to the Prescott Airport's offerings. "There is a market for people who need to get to Phoenix quickly."

Stephanie Bragg, owner of the Prescott Travel Agency, agrees. "I still think Phoenix is our best hub," she said. At the same time, she pointed out that she receives several calls a week from customers asking for a non-stop flight to Las Vegas.

Bragg - noting that Las Vegas is only about four hours from Prescott by car - maintains that the success of a Prescott-to-Las Vegas flight would depend largely on the fare prices. "I'm sure it would get down to the money," she said.

Prescott Economic Development Director Jane Bristol also expressed support for having options. "Hopefully, we could have both," she said of the possible connections with Phoenix and Las Vegas.

Even so, Bristol said she sees Las Vegas as "a very good option. I haven't heard of too many people who fly routinely to go to Phoenix."

For Prescott Chamber of Commerce Director David Maurer, any additional service would be a positive step. He noted, however, that the Las Vegas option is not officially a part of the USDOT's proposal, which he said makes Phoenix the primary route for the Essential Air Service subsidy.

While the Phoenix link remains the primary route in the USDOT's request for proposals, the document states that, in order to give the department and the communities as many options as possible, "carriers are also welcome to prepare more than one service option..." including "different hubs."

The request for proposals continues: "In that regard, we note that Kingman from time to time has informally expressed interest in service to Las Vegas."

Prescott Airport Manager Rick Severson explained that while the USDOT has designated Phoenix as Prescott's hub, the possibility exists to change that to Las Vegas.

And Severson suggests that could be a good thing for the local airport. "Las Vegas has more connections, and it has more international (flights)," he said.

In addition, a connection to Las Vegas would add a tourism element that Phoenix does not have.

"Rarely do we have a passenger get off in Phoenix," Severson said, adding that Las Vegas likely would be a destination for Prescott residents much more often.

McCarran International Airport also offers a system that links its terminals internally, Severson said, unlike Sky Harbor, which has separate terminals that require passengers to go through security again if they are changing terminals.

And Severson voiced some reservations about having a combination of Phoenix and Las Vegas connections. "When we have only three flights, I would hate to see it split up," he said.

All of the local experts agree on one point: any change in air service must include a better terminal option at Sky Harbor.

"The community has to have service back going into Terminal 4," Bragg said, referring to the change two years ago to Great Lakes Airlines, which flies into Terminal 2. The previous carrier, Mesa Airlines, used Terminal 4, which locals say offered better access for connecting flights.

"(Mesa) definitely was a much better service overall," Bragg said.

For Bristol, the change in service two years ago limited the city's economic development endeavors. "Not having passenger service that is good and reliable is a deterrent," she said.

"In the last couple of years, we've been kicked out of the running about a dozen times over airport issues," Bristol said. "It's not the biggest issue we have, but it is definitely an issue for certain businesses."

The proposals for the new air service contract, which will begin on July 1, are due into the USDOT on April 23.

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