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2:25 PM Sat, Sept. 22nd

Locals come out strongly in support of Mesa Airline

PRESCOTT - If the Prescott City Council has its way, Mesa Airlines will be back providing commercial air service at the Prescott Airport this

summer.

Indeed, local feedback on the issue has been virtually unanimous in maintaining that a link to Terminal 4 at Phoenix's Sky Harbor is essential.

And for the Prescott City Council, that translates into a recommendation to bring back the company that provided the community's commuter service for years prior to 2005, Mesa Airlines.

Although no official vote took place at this week's study session, council members put the recommendation for awarding the contract to Mesa on their consent agenda for May 8 - a move that usually indicates that all members support an action.

At issue for the council this week were the two proposals that the U.S. Department of Transportation received - from Mesa and from the current provider, Great Lakes Airlines - for the contract for subsidized air service between Prescott and Phoenix and/or Las Vegas.

The Prescott Airport has had commercial air service off and on since the 1948 construction of the

existing airport terminal, Airport Manager Rick

Severson said, and for the past 30 years, that service has benefited from the federal Essential Air Service subsidy.

After years of Mesa's service, the contract changed hands in 2005, when an Arizona Department of Transportation-administered consortium of rural airports overruled Prescott's recommendation and chose Great Lakes to provide the service.

That move led to a drop in passenger numbers over the past two years - a development that city officials attributed to the change in terminals at Sky Harbor.

While Mesa flies into Terminal 4, with access to U.S. Airways, Great Lakes flies into Terminal 2, with access to United Airlines.

It was obvious Tuesday that people continue to focus on the terminal issue.

Resident John Solomon, for instance, maintained that convenience should be a major component of air service.

"I believe convenience was left out of the last

consideration," he told the council. "Terminal 4 is a very important thing to our users."

Prescott Chamber of Commerce President Doug Bristol expressed similar views, noting that airline transportation between Terminal 4 and Prescott was critical to the organization's members.

In fact, a 2006 chamber-sponsored study of the

economic impact of the airport generated a number of comments about the commercial air service, said local aviation consultant and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University professor William Cheek, who oversaw the study.

"Not a single one was in favor of Great Lakes," he said of the comments.

City Manager Steve Norwood noted that he had received five comments just prior to Tuesday's meeting, and all supported Mesa's proposal. Added Mayor Rowle Simmons: "I don't really know of anybody in support of Great Lakes," he said.

While city officials had expected both airlines to make presentations at the meeting, only Mesa's representative, Jeffrey Hartz, manager of the airline's EAS program, was on hand.

Severson reported that he had received an e-mail from Great Lakes CEO Charles Howell IV declining the city's invitation to make a presentation. A Great Lakes representative was unavailable for comment later Tuesday night.

While the two companies submitted fairly similar financial proposals, some of the details differ. A breakdown shows that Mesa would charge a fare of about $49 one-way between Prescott and Phoenix, and about $59 between Prescott and Las Vegas.

Great Lakes' fares would be about $87 for the one-way flight to Phoenix, and about $71 for the flight to Las Vegas.

Council members voiced support for the Mesa proposal that includes two Prescott-to-Phoenix flights a day, and one daily Prescott-to-Vegas flight.

If the council approves the resolution of support next week, Severson said he would submit the recommendation to the U.S. Department of Transportation. While the public comments are important to the decision, he noted that the final decision would lie with the federal agency.

The new EAS contract period begins July 1.

Contact the reporter at cbarks@prescottaz.com