Mesa Airlines: Four months until takeoff
PRESCOTT - Even though a new air service contract is now in effect for the Prescott Airport, local passengers will not reap the benefits until well into the fall.
This week, a Mesa Airlines official reported that the company plans to take over the commercial air service between Prescott and Phoenix, as well as a new flight between Prescott and Las Vegas, on Oct. 1.
That is about four months later than local officials had initially expected.
Tom Bacon, vice president of planning for Mesa Airlines, said the airline needed time to prepare the aircraft and employees for the new route.
"We don't have airplanes and crews sitting around, waiting for us to get a new contract," Bacon said.
Getting the new service up and running takes time, Bacon said, as does working out the details of Mesa's "code share" with U.S. Airways, which will enable passengers to book flights from Prescott to Phoenix or Las Vegas, and on to other destinations with a single ticket.
When the U.S. Department of Transportation awarded the two-year Essential Air Service subsidy contract to Mesa Airlines in June, local officials expected the airline to be offering its service soon afterward.
Mayor Rowle Simmons was hopeful at the time that Mesa would be back at the Prescott Airport by mid-July. The contract officially began on July 1.
This week, Simmons said he was "very disappointed, to say the least" about Mesa's delay.
"We've been wanting to get this thing turned around for two years," Simmons said, referring to the city's recent efforts to get Mesa back at the airport after a two-year absence. "It's not the end of the world, but it is disappointing."
Two years ago, the U.S. Department of Transportation awarded the Essential Air Service contract to Wyoming-based Great Lakes Airlines, despite the Prescott City Council's strong recommendation that the contract should remain with Mesa Airlines, the long-time air service provider in Prescott.
The change resulted in a dramatic drop in passenger numbers - a situation that continued throughout the duration of Great Lakes' two-year contract.
Local officials blamed the reduced passenger numbers on the fact that Great Lakes flew into Terminal 2 at Phoenix's Sky Harbor Airport, while Mesa used Terminal 4 and had a code-share arrangement with America West (now U.S. Airways).
When the contract came up for renewal this past spring, Mesa and Great Lakes again submitted bids. This time - with the recommendation of the Prescott City Council and many local residents - the contract went back to Mesa Airlines.
Bacon said Mesa is happy to have the route back and "wouldn't have minded starting by July 1." But he maintained that it is not unusual for a delay to occur when a contract changes hands.
Simmons pointed out, however, that when Great Lakes took over in 2005, the switch happened on the first day of the new contract.
Meanwhile, local residents also are getting impatient with the delay. Ben Vardiman, interim manager of the Prescott Airport, reported this past week that the airport has been getting regular inquiries from residents about when the new service would be available.
During the interim, Vardiman said Great Lakes Airlines is continuing to provide the commercial air service from the Prescott Airport.
For passengers hoping to book U.S. Airways/Mesa flights from Prescott in advance of the Oct. 1 date, Bacon said the booking capability should be ready by about mid-August. "The normal process is that (the booking) begins 45 days in advance (of the service)," he said.