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5:53 PM Tue, Nov. 13th

Monday marks return of Mesa Air to Prescott

PRESCOTT - With the Mesa Air Group returning to the Prescott Airport on Monday, city officials hope that passenger numbers will rebound to the level they were two years ago when Mesa last provided local commercial service.

Beginning Monday morning, Mesa will once again be providing the commercial passenger service from Prescott to Phoenix's Sky Harbor Airport after a two-year hiatus while Wyoming-based Great Lakes Airlines provided the service.

In addition, for the first time, Mesa will be offering a flight from Prescott to Las Vegas' McCarran Airport.

The city will mark the change by conducting an "official take-off" event at 10 a.m. Monday at the Prescott Airport Terminal, 6500 MacCurdy Drive.

Economic Development Director Jane Bristol said the event would include remarks by officials from the airline, the city, and the Prescott Chamber of Commerce. The public is welcome to attend.

City officials expressed optimism this week that the return of Mesa - and specifically the return of service to Sky Harbor's Terminal 4 - will appeal to Prescott customers and will increase passenger numbers.

Airport Manager Ben Vardiman reported late Friday that Mesa had already booked 142 passengers for its first week of business, representing a dramatic increase over Great Lakes' passenger numbers from earlier in the summer.

Airport numbers show that Great Lakes had 224 paying passengers during the entire month of July - the last month for which the city has totals. The number does not include non-revenue flights that airline employees took.

Vardiman noted that if Mesa's numbers hold throughout the next month, the airline would record more than 600 passengers for October.

Looking at the timing of the Oct. 1 start, Vardiman said, "This appears to be shaping up to be a normal business week." Based on that, he was hopeful that the numbers would hold and even increase in coming weeks.

City Manager Steve Norwood expressed similar hopes.

"I think within two months, (Mesa) will be back to the same level (of 2005)," he said. "And by spring, I think we'll see those numbers back at record levels."

For years prior to 2005, Mesa had provided the city's commercial air service to Phoenix, docking at Terminal 4, with access to then-America West Airlines - now US Airways - and Southwest Airlines.

By the spring of 2005, the airline had been attracting more than 800 passengers per month to its Prescott-to-Phoenix flights.

But two years ago, Great Lakes won the federal Essential Air Service subsidy contract to provide Prescott's commercial flights, and began offering service to Sky Harbor's Terminal 2, with access to United Airlines.

Almost immediately, passenger totals went down to less than half of the previous numbers. City officials, who opposed the switch to Great Lakes, attributed the downturn to the change in terminals because many passengers had to pass through security again at Terminal 2, which was not necessary at Terminal 4.

When the contract came up for renewal this year, city officials and many area residents urged the U.S. Department of Transportation to award the contract to Mesa.

While Great Lakes also submitted a bid, the contract ultimately went to Mesa for two daily trips to Phoenix and one to Las Vegas.

Earlier this month, Mesa announced its new schedule, which includes two daily flights from Prescott to Phoenix and from Phoenix to Prescott Sunday through Friday, and one flight on Saturday. The schedule also includes a flight to Las Vegas and a return flight Sunday through Friday.

Mesa will provide the flights through its wholly-owned subsidiary Air Midwest, and will operate it as US Airways Express.

Customers may purchase tickets through US Airways at www.usairways.com, or by calling 1-800-235-9292.

Contact the reporter at cbarks@prescottaz.com