Wednesday, September 17, 2014




Airport officials await study's results, ready to adjust services

By ALLISON MILES
Oct. 10, 2013 at 5:10 a.m.
Updated Oct. 11, 2013 at 5:11 a.m.

A Sun Air International flight departs Victoria Regional Airport bound for Houston. Although service had been good for months, August saw delays and some cancellations.

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With the holidays approaching, Victoria Regional Airport manager Jason Milewski urged travelers using the airport to pack accordingly.

Sun Air International's Piper Chieftain aircraft maintains small baggage compartments and can't always accommodate people's checked luggage. At times, he said, the airline must send bags along on the next flight.

"It's obviously not an ideal solution," Milewski said. "To avoid that, we encourage anybody to travel with carry-on sized bags."

Victoria Regional Airport enplanements

For 2013

• January: 275

• February: 206

• March: 298

• April: 294

• May: 316

• June: 321

• July: 271

• August: 280

• Year-to-date 2013: 2,261

• Year-to-date 2012: 2,921

Source: Victoria Regional Airport

A wall-mounted TV displayed the day's news inside the Victoria Regional Airport's terminal while travelers talked on cellphones or ate a quick lunch, awaiting their afternoon flight.

The quiet scene was nothing new to Jeff Galbreath, a Victoria man whose oil work takes him out of town frequently.

"I fly every two weeks," he said, adjusting the rolling suitcase by his side. "I'm here a lot."

And soon, airline personnel hope to have a bit of information under their belts to help ensure travelers such as Galbreath have what they need to get around.

The Victoria Regional Airport Commission is at the tail end of a market study by management consulting firm Seabury Airline Planning, said Victoria County Judge Don Pozzi. He said the study - which incorporates Seabury talking to a representative group of Victoria County residents, among other research methods - is aimed at presenting a clear picture of the Crossroads' travel needs.

"We are simply continuing to look into methods to upgrade our commercial air service and to make available to our area residents the type of air transportation that we feel is needed in Victoria," he said.

In July, the Victoria County Commissioners Court approved the $39,500 study, the Advocate previously reported. At the time, Pozzi said the study came about because of issues with air carrier Sun Air International regarding plane size, baggage troubles and ground problems in Houston. The study was also a way to help in marketing efforts.

The Victoria Regional Airport currently sits at about the industry standard when it comes to flight performance, said airport manager Jason Milewski. Still, some months are better than others.

He said the past few months went well, with few delays or cancellations. Those numbers were up in August, however, and September's data is not yet available.

Milewski on Thursday was away from his office and did not have specific numbers available.

The airport is always looking for ways to supplement and increase service to the traveling public, he said. Regardless of who the carrier is, the airport would work to improve its services.

"Nothing is off the table when it comes to air service and/or any kind of service that would help our people get to the airports they need," he said.

D'Cater Joseph, a Victoria financial adviser, began researching possible solutions during talks about replacing the airport's previous carrier. That brought him to a study by M.J. Bradley & Associates, which compared coach bus service to essential air service, such as what is offered in Victoria.

The study shows air service cost $131.5 million per year when counting the 38 communities nationwide that maintained essential air service in 2011. Fares cost an average of $214 per one-way passenger trip. Meanwhile, bus service rang in about $41.9 million, or $68 per one-way trip.

Joseph said he does not use the Victoria airport but has received references from those who have. And while some people report positive experiences, many others noted delays, cancellations and the like.

He discussed the charter bus option with both Milewski and Pozzi, he said, in hopes it might help.

"It's important to the community, and I know we need to get it figured out," he said.

As for Galbreath, he said he's been mostly pleased with Sun Air International.

He hasn't experienced delays, he said, but once the airline did transport him to Houston by cab. The airline gave him two free round-trip tickets to make up for it.

Still, he said he wouldn't mind other changes joining the mix.

It would be nice if flights were available to San Antonio, for instance, and if the airline upgraded to larger planes. He said he would also like to see the car rental companies inside the airport remain open until after the final flights arrived.

Regardless, he said he's glad the airport is available.

"It's good to have this here," he said inside the terminal. "I'm going to keep flying."

Attempts to contact Sun Air International representatives by phone Thursday were unsuccessful.

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