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Bidding process under way for Victoria Regional Airport flights

By ALLISON MILES
March 22, 2011 at 6:05 p.m.
Updated March 24, 2011 at 10:25 p.m.

A  Pilatus PC-12  sits on the runway. SeaPort planes  do not include flight crews or restrooms

Pinnacle's plans

A representative with Pinnacle Airlines will present the company's proposed plans at 11 a.m. Wednesday inside the Victoria Regional Airport terminal, 609 Foster Field Drive.

About the meeting

The Victoria Regional Airport Commission will meet at 9 a.m. Thursday in the airport conference room, 609 Foster Field Drive. The agenda includes consideration of the proposals from SeaPort Airlines and Pinnacle Airlines.

speak out

To voice your opinion regarding the airport, contact the Victoria Chamber of Commerce at 361-573-5277 , Jason Milewski, managing director of Prautes Corp., at 361-655-0958, or your Victoria County commissioner.

The Victoria Regional Airport's flight schedule is up in the air as two airlines vie to win flight contracts.

SeaPort Airlines and Pinnacle Airlines both hope to become the airport's airline after the existing contract with Pinnacle runs out in July.

The Victoria Regional Airport is part of the United States government's Essential Air Service program, which subsidizes airlines to operate in smaller communities, said Jason Milewski, managing director of Prautes Corp., which manages airport operations. Under the program, the U.S. Department of Transportation advertises for bids on airport operations.

Both competing airlines offer their own pros and cons, Milewski said at Tuesday morning's Victoria Partnership meeting, but neither offers everything Victoria needs.

"None of these is a home run for us, unfortunately," he said. "They're very, very different in what they offer."

Pinnacle Airlines, which holds the current contract, would basically offer the same service it offers now, two round-trip flights to Houston Sunday through Friday and one on Saturday.

Its benefits include an established company with more than 1,000 aircraft and extensive connectivity, Milewski said. Pinnacle participates in code sharing, where tickets purchased through Continental can also be used with other airlines, further increasing connectivity.

A passenger traveling to Atlanta, for instance, might leave Victoria on a Continental plane but take a Southwest Airlines plane on a connecting flight.

"You can get pretty much anywhere from Victoria," he said.

The aircraft also seats 34 people, includes a flight crew, lavatory and two engines.

Price is one negative to Pinnacle, Milewski said, noting round-trip fares to Houston cost $438. Schedule frequency is also a hindrance because, while the schedule allows people to get from Victoria to Houston and back in a day, the same does not work for people looking to fly from Houston to Victoria and back in the same timeframe.

The company is willing to negotiate flight costs and schedules, he said.

Bargaining power is another negative, he said. Victoria's airport averages about 5,000 passengers a year, which is small in comparison to Continental's other customers.

"We're not very big customers of theirs, so we don't have a lot of muscle to flex," he said.

SeaPort Airlines, on the other hand, would offer three flights a day to Dallas' Love Field Airport for between $100 and $200, depending on when a passenger booked the flight.

Among the negatives, the nine-passenger Pilatus PC-12 planes SeaPort operates do not include cabin crews or lavatories, Milewski said. The company's 14-aircraft fleet also means that if a plane is down for maintenance, delays might come into play.

SeaPort does not participate in code sharing, he added, which means less connectivity.

SeaPort Airlines President Rob McKinney on Tuesday made a presentation to the airport commission about his company's plans, were it to win the contract.

He said the airline would likely work out a deal so Pinnacle would continue service until August, so SeaPort had a chance to get last-minute details ironed out. The last thing they want is delayed or cancelled flights through the transition process, he said.

The airline could also make an additional plane available for the Dallas flights if it became necessary, he said. SeaPort would need some lead time to make appropriate plans, however.

A representative from Pinnacle Airlines will present the company's proposed plan to the airport commission at 11 a.m. Wednesday. Company spokesman Joe Williams on Tuesday said that, as per company policy, he could not comment on the pending bid.

The airport commission has until April 6 to review its options regarding the airlines and make a recommendation to the department of transportation, Victoria County Judge Don Pozzi said. Under the Essential Air Service program, the government can only grant a contract to one company, he said.

"It would be wonderful if we could choose both or if both could do it, but under the program, that's not possible," he said.

Milewski said he wants input from Crossroads residents, the business community and more regarding the final decision. The community as a whole should have a say, not just one specific group.

"It's very, very important that the community looks at both proposals, get as much information as they can," he said, noting people can express their opinions to the Victoria Chamber of Commerce, their county commissioners or even to Milewski himself.

Corrected March 25, 2011.

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