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Pinnacle Airlines Corp. chooses to pull air service early from Victoria

By ALLISON MILES
May 24, 2012 at 12:24 a.m.
Updated May 25, 2012 at 12:25 a.m.

A Colgan-Pinnacle flight leaves Victoria.

NUMBER OF PASSENGERS BOARDING VICTORIA AIRPORT

2011 to date: 1,393

2012 to date: 1,903

Year totals:

2008: 8,364

2009: 5,625

2010: 5,016

2011: 5,168

Source: Victoria RegionalAirport

Victoria could be without air service after Colgan Air Inc.'s decision to pull from the Victoria Regional Airport.

Airport Manager Jason Milewski said he learned Tuesday that the company planned to end its service June 30.

As of this week, passengers can no longer book beyond June.

"Frankly, this is very sad," Milewski said, noting the airport has done well and passenger numbers are up. "We got the rug pulled out from under us. It's a real shame."

The decision was a necessary step in the company's Chapter 11 reorganization process, said Joe Williams, a spokesman with Pinnacle Airlines Corp., Colgan's parent company.

Pinnacle filed for bankruptcy in April. In early March, it notified the U.S. Department of Transportation that it planned to pull from seven airports nationwide, including Victoria's.

Victoria's airport operates under essential air service, a federal program that subsidizes smaller airports. Williams said that maintaining a single EAS route could deter Pinnacle from reaching financial goals set forth as part of its debtor-in-possession financing.

He said he hoped to see the process continue as seamlessly as possible.

"We remain focused on providing customers safe, reliable and on-time service," he said.

Pinnacle's essential air service contract required the airline to remain in Victoria until a new provider moved in, the Advocate previously reported.

Williams said he could not speculate on possible penalties associated with leaving the market early, but Milewski said fines - up to $25,000 per day - were possible.

"I understand that they are opposing those fines through their legal process," he said. "Whether or not any of them will come to fruition is between the department of transportation and the carrier."

In the meantime, a search is already under way to find a replacement.

The department of transportation recently began a bidding process, Milewski said, and the second round ends June 6. Word should come a day or two afterward regarding which carriers put bids in, he said, and the community can offer input from there.

The search is a priority, Milewski said, and if Victoria does find itself without air service, it should not be for long.

"We're doing everything we can at this point and ... we've presented the best case we can," he said. "Our hope is that our efforts will pay off and we'll get a viable replacement."

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