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7:34 AM Wed, Sept. 26th

Connecting Prescott ‘to the globe’

The first Skywest jet lands as United Express officially opened for business at the Prescott Regional Airport  Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2018. (Les Stukenberg/Courier)

The first Skywest jet lands as United Express officially opened for business at the Prescott Regional Airport Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2018. (Les Stukenberg/Courier)

Just five months after the Prescott Municipal Airport was abruptly bumped from the world of commercial flights, the community came out in force this week to celebrate the arrival of new, upgraded air service.

Upward of 150 people packed the airport terminal Wednesday, Aug. 29, to welcome the inaugural flight by United Express into Prescott.

The service, operated by SkyWest Airlines, is offering seven round trips a week between Prescott and Denver, and six between Prescott and Los Angeles.

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Passengers deplane as United Express officially opened for business at the Prescott Regional Airport Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2018. (Les Stukenberg/Courier)

The airport — which the Prescott City Council had renamed the Prescott Regional Airport just the day before — has seen a host of improvements in the past several months to prepare for United Express’s larger 50-seat CR1200 regional jets.

Airport Director Robin Sobotta emphasized the dramatic turnaround that had occurred since the late-March announcement by the city’s former carrier, Great Lakes Airlines, that commercial service would be suspended at midnight March 26.

“We all know this was a year of challenges, triggered by the sudden loss of air service in March,” Sobotta told the crowd prior to the ribbon-cutting for the new airline service.

She added that the city had taken “extraordinary steps to recover, including enduring an air-service hiatus, accelerating a major runway project, and working closely with the TSA (Transportation Security Administration), the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration), and ADOT (Arizona Department of Transportation) partners to prepare for the new air service.”

Sobotta and others also stressed the crucial link that is being offered through the United Airlines affiliation.

“This connects Prescott to the globe,” Dan Belmont of SkyWest Airlines told the crowd, adding kudos to the community for its persistence.

“My hat’s off to your community for getting all the pieces in place,” Belmont said.

“I think it’s fair to say this was done in an unprecedented amount of time. Your leaders had foresight and tenacity to get every single piece in place to pull this off, and we are just glad to be here to kick the service off with you.”

PARTNERSHIPS AND VISION

Regional cooperation was also a major theme at the ribbon-cutting.

Referring to the City Council’s Aug. 28 decision to rename the airport, Prescott Mayor Pro Tem Billie Orr said, “Why regional? Because this is a regional effort. I don’t believe we would have gotten this done without the help of (Prescott Valley Mayor) Harvey Skoog.”

Orr also mentioned the help of Yavapai County, Chino Valley, Dewey-Humboldt, Sedona, and Cottonwood. “This is now their airport to come to and go anywhere in the whole wide world by way of United, LAX, and Denver,” she said. “It’s a big deal for us, and it’s a big deal for our region.”

In addition, Sobotta brought up the “shared, common vision” of previous city officials.

“To arrive at this day, in which we’re welcoming the first commercial jet service in the history of this community, it has taken the support and vision from generations of mayors,” she said, introducing three former Prescott mayors — Rowle

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Gail Yungman helps Jeff Plotkin with flight information as United Express officially opened for business at the Prescott Regional Airport Wednesday, August 29, 2018. (Les Stukenberg/Courier)

Simmons, current Yavapai County Supervisor; Marlin Kuykendall; and Harry Oberg — along with Skoog.

Wednesday’s event began with a reception in the newly renovated lobby of the terminal, and ended with the arrival of the first United Express flight from Denver, which was welcomed with a water arch by the Prescott Fire Department.

Several local officials were on board, including current Mayor Greg Mengarelli, who disembarked briefly before joining several dozen locals to catch the 1:50 p.m. flight to Los Angeles.

FARE FLUCTUATIONS

Layne Watson, manager of corporate communications for SkyWest, said passengers are responding well to the Prescott flights.

“We’ve been really pleased with the response so far,” he said. “The demand is there.”

When the flights were initially posted on United’s website, many of the roundtrip fares to Los Angeles were listed at $100, while many of the Denver flights were listed at $160 for a round-trip fare.

Currently, United’s website still lists some fares at those rates starting later in September, although fares have gone up for earlier flights.

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Skywest's Dan Belmont presents two round trip tickets to Morgan Ellis of the Yavapai Big Brothers as United Express officially opened for business at the Prescott Regional Airport Wednesday, August 29, 2018. (Les Stukenberg/Courier)

Such fluctuations are typical of airline fares, which Watson said tend to be higher “the closer you get to the day of the flight.”

He added: “Fares vary on a number of factors,” but said, “We’re always working to make sure our fares of competitive.”

Watson suggested that passengers check the United website frequently to find the best fares.

Information on the times and fares for the Prescott flights is available on the United Airlines website: https://www.united.com/en/us/.