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Sun, Aug. 25

Mesa Air Group shuts down flights to Phoenix, Las Vegas

The Daily Courier/Les Stukenberg<br>
Phoenix passengers board before Mesa Airlines’ inaugural flight from Prescott to Las Vegas departs from Love Field in October 2007.

The Daily Courier/Les Stukenberg<br> Phoenix passengers board before Mesa Airlines’ inaugural flight from Prescott to Las Vegas departs from Love Field in October 2007.

PRESCOTT - As of Sunday morning, the Prescott Airport was without commercial airline service for the first time in decades.

On Saturday night, Mesa Air Group provided its final flight out of Prescott, said Darrell Willis, emergency services director for the city.

"Mesa Airlines discontinued service on Saturday evening; that was their last flight out of there," said Willis, who oversees the airport. "Effectively, on Sunday morning, there was no commuter airline service out of Prescott."

City officials were unable to pinpoint exactly the last time the Prescott Airport was without a connecting commercial flight to Phoenix, but it likely dates back several decades.

The Essential Air Service program, which subsidizes the service, has been in effect since the 1970s, serving rural communities that otherwise would not have commercial air service.

Mesa Air Group began providing the service in Prescott in the late 1980s, and served the local airport throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, before Great Lakes Airlines won the federal Essential Air Service contract from 2005 to 2007.

City officials, who had opposed the switch to Great Lakes, successfully lobbied the U.S. Department of Transportation in early 2007 to award the new two-year contract to Mesa, and the airline returned to Prescott in October 2007, providing flights to Phoenix and Las Vegas.

City officials have known for several weeks that the airport terminal likely would lie nearly vacant for at least part of the summer.

In May, Mesa announced that it would be shutting down its Air Midwest subsidiary, causing the termination of service in Prescott and Kingman on May 31.

The airline cited soaring fuel prices as the reason for terminating the service.

In a May 14 letter to the U.S. Department of Transportation, Air Midwest stated that it "has no choice but to shut down operations." The letter added that the airline is in "severe financial distress ... particularly in light of current conditions, including high fuel prices."

Soon after the U.S. Department of Transportation learned of Mesa's plans to terminate its contract, it advertised for proposals from other airlines that might be interested in the federal contract.

Those proposals were due by the end of the day Monday. Airport Manager Ben Vardiman said he expected to hear from the USDOT sometime today about the results of the request for proposals.

A USDOT official was unavailable for comment Monday afternoon. But earlier in May, a spokesman said the department would move as quickly as possible to get a replacement airline serving the Prescott Airport, although he acknowledged that the airport likely would go for a time without service.

Meanwhile, the situation is generating questions in the community. Vardiman reported Monday that the airport has received a number of recent inquiries about the status of the airport.

"We have gotten quite a few calls asking if we're shutting down the airport, which we're not," Vardiman, said, noting that a number of other aspects of the airport continue to thrive, such as general aviation.

Currently, Vardiman said, the airport terminal restaurant and car rental operation continue to operate.

Before Mesa announced its intention to leave the airport, city officials were working on attracting another airline, Horizon Air, to provide non-stop flights between Prescott and Los Angeles.

Willis said the city expects Horizon to make an official announcement on June 9 about its September arrival at the Prescott Airport.

Contact the reporter at cbarks@prescottaz.com

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