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Sun, Feb. 23

Great Lakes Airlines wins contract for Prescott Airport

PRESCOTT - Sticking to a pattern that began decades ago, the Prescott Airport soon will undergo another change in commercial airlines - the third in just three years.

This week, the U.S. Department of Transportation awarded the contract for Prescott's Essential Air Service subsidy service to Great Lakes Airlines, the company that provided the service from 2005 to 2007.

That comes just weeks after Mesa Air Group terminated its Air Midwest flights between Prescott and Phoenix and Las Vegas. It also comes less than a year after Great Lakes left the Prescott Airport to make way for Mesa, which won the contract in 2007.

U.S. Department of Transportation spokesman Bill Mosley said Wednesday that the department moved quickly in awarding the contract, because Prescott currently is without a commercial carrier.

"We wanted to get service in place as soon as possible," Mosley said.

The rapid changes in airlines should come as no surprise to long-time watchers of the Prescott Airport. Past and current city officials say airlines have come and gone on a regular basis.

While Mesa had a fairly lengthy run - from 1989 to 2005, and again in 2007/2008 - that was not the norm for the local airport.

Mary Carey, who currently works in the city's accounting department, started her local career as a ticket agent at the Prescott Airport in the late 1970s.

During the nearly 10 years that she worked at the airport, Carey remembers at least four airlines coming and going. All were small, and some were family-owned, Carey said. None succeeded.

First on the list was Cochise Airlines, which arrived at the Prescott Airport in 1975. Next came Sun West, which lasted only a year or two. Then came Golden Pacific Airlines, which served the airport for about six years, before going out of business.

Prescott City Councilwoman Lora Lopas also started her career at the Prescott Airport, when - just out of Prescott High School in June 1988 - she worked for a short time for Golden Pacific as a ticket agent.

Just six or seven months later, Golden Pacific went out of business, Lopas said, and Mesa arrived in January 1989.

Lopas remembers that Mesa provided about a half-dozen flights a day between Prescott and Phoenix, and business was good. Flights were often full on the nine-to-13-seat planes that Mesa flew, Lopas said.

Sometime in the late 1980s, Lopas said another airline, States West, also served the Prescott Airport, offering competition for Mesa's subsidized flights. In addition, Carey remembers a brief stint by Desert Pacific Airlines.

Former Prescott official Mark Alver, who managed the airport for about three years in the late 1970s and early 1980s, agreed that the current flux in commercial air service is typical of the Prescott Airport.

In fact, Alver says the airport likely had no commercial service at all for a time in the early 1970s, before the federal government began offering subsidies through the Essential Air Service program.

"When the regional carriers pulled out (in the late 1960s/early 1970s), I'm guessing there wasn't scheduled air service," Alver said, adding that Cochise likely was the first airline to benefit from the federal subsidies.

The contract that the USDOT awarded to Great Lakes this week will run for two years from the time the airline starts service. It involves three roundtrips between Prescott and Phoenix.

Mosley said the contract did not set a starting date for the service, although he said USDOT is encouraging Great Lakes to begin as soon as possible.

A Great Lakes official was unavailable for comment Wednesday.

Contact the reporter at cbarks@prescottaz.com

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