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United discusses proposed plans for 2-year airport contract

By ALLISON MILES
March 23, 2011 at 10:01 p.m.
Updated March 22, 2011 at 10:23 p.m.


WHO DECIDES?

The decision to choose Pinnacle Airlines or SeaPort Airlines does not fall to one small group of people, but the community as a whole, said Jason Milewski, managing director of Prautes Corp., which manages airport operations. Crossroads residents who want to voice their opinions can speak with the chamber of commerce, airport personnel, county commissioners and others.

Pointed conversations about flight frequency, reliability, fare prices and more filled a conference room at the Victoria Regional Airport Wednesday as community leaders discussed the airport's future.

Representatives with the new United Airlines - the company formed after United merged with Continental Airlines - met with about 20 people Wednesday to discuss their proposed flight contract with the Victoria Regional Airport.

Pinnacle, Victoria's regional carrier for United, is up against SeaPort Airlines for the two-year contract. The airport's current agreement with Pinnacle expires in July.

SeaPort met with the group Tuesday.

If granted the contract, United would offer much the same schedule it currently offers, two round-trip flights to Houston's George Bush Intercontinental Airport Sunday through Friday and one on Saturday.

Ideally, Victoria would like at least three daily flights, said Jason Milewski, managing director of Prautes Corp., which manages airport operations. The airport boasted more flights in the past, but as area plants cut back and decreased the number of people flying, the number of flights also deceased.

The airline could not add a third flight because of the economics, but might adjust flight times to better suit Victoria's needs, Jim Ferea, a United representative, said via conference call. Such changes would not only allow people flying out of Victoria to make it to Houston and back in a day, but would also allow people to travel from Houston to Victoria and back.

Price is also negotiable.

Round-trip tickets between Victoria and Houston, which did cost about $460, have already been reduced, Milewski said. The company has also discussed further reductions.

The group's questions became pointed once the issue of delayed and cancelled flights emerged.

It's an issue Victoria has dealt with often through the years, Victoria County Judge Don Pozzi said, and it is made worse because airport personnel don't have a liaison consult with passengers when such issues arise.

"The public complains and we say, 'We're sorry. Unfortunately, we don't have control over that,'" Pozzi said.

Ferea noted weather issues and the like sometimes deter flight arrangements and agreed to act as a point person in such instances.

Victoria attorney Jan Scott attended the meeting and apologized to United representatives for the group's blunt questions and comments. They arise, however, because Victoria is trying to weigh two contract offers, neither of which meet all of the community's needs.

"We have two lousy choices to choose from," she said, "and we're trying to see if there's any good we can squeeze from them."

Milewski said one of the main goals is to show Crossroads residents there are benefits to flying from Victoria. Now, Victoria loses about 95 percent of travel to airports in cities such as Houston, Austin and San Antonio.

"There's times when I can't use this airport, more often than not," he said, "which is sad, because I run it."

The Victoria Regional Airport Commission must decide between Pinnacle and SeaPort and submit its opinion to the United States Department of Transportation by April 6.

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