I have family that lives in Visalia, California and while my uncle was still alive, I made frequent trips up there – often once per month. A 3hr drive on I-5 is not a horrible thing, but the drive from LA over the Grapevine through California’s Central Valley did get tedious at times. As we pulled onto CA198 we always passed Visalia Municipal Airport, and through the years I spied many different airlines operating what always turned out to be a money-losing route under the taxpayer-subsidized Essential Air Service Program (EAS), which seeks to provide commercial air service to smaller communities.
United used to fly 737-200s to Visalia from San Francisco and Los Angeles, but that was way before my time. I remember when United Express, operated by Skywest, began service between Visalia and Fresno. That did not last long. I remember when America West/US Airways Express began service to Merced and Las Vegas, operated by Mesa Airlines. Failed. Now Great Lakes Aviation operates service to LAX, though no longer as a United codeshare and it too is pulling out.
All have failed. All have lost money.
When Mesa’s 19-seat Beech 1900-D aircraft failed to gain traction to LAS and MCE, many blamed the tiny aircraft. Perhaps the aircraft was just too big, as the latest operator, SeaPort Airlines, will use a 9-seat turboprop to inagurate new service next year to Oakland and Burbank (SeaPort will also start Burbank – San Diego service next month).
Fares will range from $49-99 and there is some concern over loads–
The new EAS requirements mean SeaPort Air must have four to five passengers on each flight, which is something Great Lakes struggled with. If they can’t keep up that capacity over the next year, air service in Visalia could be eliminated.
“If they don’t meet the targets on subsidies for this next year then we won’t have any airline system, and that’s going to be a stretch even for SeaPort to make,” said Frost.
It seems to me that if you can’t have 4-5 passengers on a flight, there is probably not a need for scheduled commercial air service and certainly not subsidized air service.
But if service does get off the ground, I am going to have to give it a try. Driving to LAX just defeated the purpose of flying to Visalia, but a quick trip from Burbank to Visalia for $49 each way is cheaper than driving if I am traveling solo don’t have to park at Burbank.