City hopes new airline will help boost passenger numbers
Nearly a decade since airport reached 10,000-enplanement goal
Assuming that Boutique Air can fill or nearly fill its proposed 36 weekly flights, the Prescott Municipal Airport could reach its coveted 10,000 enplanements per year for the first time in nearly a decade.
And that would translate to a significant jump in the amount of federal money to which the airport would be entitled each year.
The potential for the 10,000-enplanement or passenger mark was one of the points that Airport Director Robin Sobotta made in her presentation to the Prescott City Council this week.
“With the frequency of flights and the number of seats, I do believe we can meet the 10,000 enplanements,” Sobotta said of the recommended proposal.
Ultimately, the Prescott City Council agreed with the Airport Advisory Committee’s earlier recommendation, and endorsed Boutique Air’s proposal to fly eight-passenger, Pilatus PC-12 airplanes out of the Prescott Airport to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) and Phoenix’s Sky Harbor.
The city’s recommendation now goes to the U.S. Department of Transportation, which administers the Essential Air Service (EAS) subsidy program, and will have the final say on which airline will serve the Prescott area.
Boutique was one of three airlines hoping to serve the Prescott Airport under the EAS subsidy.
The others included: Advanced Air, with options for flying KingAir 350s to the Los Angeles-area Hawthorne Airport and Phoenix Sky Harbor; and Mokulele Airlines, with a proposal to fly Cessna Caravans to LAX and Sky Harbor.
In addition, Boutique submitted several other options for flying KingAir 350s into LAX and Sky Harbor.
All of the proposals involved using eight- or nine-seat aircraft, but the frequency of flights and the requested annual EAS subsidy amounts varied significantly.
Mokulele’s subsidy request for 21 weekly flights came in the lowest, at about $1.5 million. Advanced Air’s proposal, offering between 13 and 20 weekly flights, came in at a subsidy of about $2.8 million, while Boutique’s options ranged from 36 to 42 weekly flights, at a subsidy of $4.4 million to $6.8 million.
Sobotta pointed out that the average annual EAS subsidy is in the $2.5 million range, and the amount for Prescott’s previous carrier, Great Lakes Airlines, totaled about $2.8 million.
She added that Boutique’s proposals in the $5 million to $6.8 million range probably would not be acceptable to the U.S. Department of Transportation, but the airline’s lowest proposal of $4.4 million for the Pilatus aircraft likely would be in the acceptable range.
The proposal involves four round-trip flights a day to LAX, and two to Sky Harbor.
In order to accept the proposal, Sobotta said the city would need to send a letter to the U.S. Department of Transportation, stating a willingness to accept a single-engine airplane instead of a twin-engine plane, to which the airport is entitled under the EAS contract. The letter that the city sent on Wednesday, April 11, stipulates that the aircraft must be pressurized, she said.
Council members voiced support for Boutique’s option, and Mayor Greg Mengarelli thanked Sobotta and the Airport Advisory Committee for expediting the process.
“It is not good to be without service,” Mengarelli said. “Great Lakes pulled the rug out from under us.”
The Prescott Airport has been without commercial service since March 26, when Great Lakes – Prescott’s longtime sole commercial carrier – announced that it would be suspending service at the end of that day.
Each year, Prescott-area residents book more than one million airline tickets, according to the airport’s market research.
“We actually have a really impressive market,” Sobotta said.
The overwhelming majority of those passengers find other places from which to fly, however. Most go to Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, but some go to the Flagstaff Airport, Las Vegas’ McCarran International Airport, and Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport as well.
“We can see where we have an opportunity to better serve the public,” Sobotta said.
In the past year, Prescott’s enplanements with Great Lakes totaled 5,850. The airport’s passenger total has not topped 10,000 since 2009, when the city was served briefly by Horizon Air, in addition to Great Lakes’ subsidy service. The Seattle-based Horizon Air offered flights between Prescott and LAX from September 2008 through August 2010.
Prior to 2009, the Prescott Airport had last reached the 10,000-enplanement mark in 1997.
The 10,000 figure is significant, because it is the enplanement level that triggers $1 million in federal money for the airport. Currently, Sobotta said, the airport receives $150,000 in annual money from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) – the amount that applies to airports with enplanements of fewer than 10,000.
If Prescott were to reach the 10,000-passenger level, Sobotta said the $1 million annual grant could go toward the cost of a new terminal. City officials have discussed the need to replace its existing 1948-era terminal for decades.
The terminal is just one improvement being eyed by the city. Sobotta said a longer runway is also needed to serve larger aircraft. The city has proposed extending its current 7,619-foot-long main runway to 10,000 feet. But like the terminal, the runway project is dependent on available funding.
If the U.S. Department of Transportation approves the Boutique Air proposal, Sobotta said the flights to LAX and Sky Harbor could begin as soon as early- to mid-May.