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Airport Commission to land on decision for commercial air service

By Jessica Rodrigo
April 30, 2014 at 11 p.m.
Updated May 1, 2014 at 12:01 a.m.

A British Aerospace Jetstream 31 is toured by the Victoria County Airport Commission and members of the community Wednesday after a meeting at the Victoria Regional Airport to discuss a third bid for commercial air service from Public Charters Inc. The plane has 19 passenger seats and would have routes from Victoria to Austin-Bergstrom International Airport and Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. The airport commission will make a recommendation or file for an extension at Thursday's meeting.

Victoria travelers might soon be flying with a new commercial air service, depending on the decision of the Victoria County Airport Commission.

The group will meet Thursday to recommend which option best fits the community's needs.

"The community is very, very clear to say what they want," said Jason Milewski, manager of the Victoria Regional Airport.

Last week, two bids were submitted by the U.S. Department of Transportation for commercial air service for Victoria as part of the federally subsidized Essential Air Service, a program put into place to guarantee small communities could maintain a minimal level of scheduled air service after deregulation in 1978.

The two proposals were submitted by Boutique Air and the current commercial service, Sun Air International.

A third bid is expected to be submitted by Public Charters Inc., with headquarters in Avoca, Pa., before the end of the week.

Unlike Boutique Air and Sun Air, Public Charters operates as part of the Alternative EAS program, which was also created by Congress to give more power to the community in which the service operates.

In a traditional EAS, the carrier gets paid by the Department of Transportation, explained Jim Gallagher, owner of Public Charters. But in the Alternative EAS, the airport and carrier work together, so the transportation department will pay the community, and then, the community contracts with the carrier to supply the service.

"An alternate EAS supports a healthy relationship with the community," Gallagher said Wednesday to a group of community members and commissioners.

Public Charters operates out of Manistee County Blacker Airport in Manistee, Mich., and offers flights to Chicago with the same commuter-type planes. It is the only Alternative EAS operating in the U.S.

If it is recommended to the DOT and Victoria County commissioners and awarded, Victoria Regional Airport would be the second AEAS program in the country.

"The alternate EAS is still relatively new, but it allows us more flexibility," said Trey Ruschhaupt, chairman of the airport commission.

He said he felt as if he had enough information from the proposed air services to make a recommendation at Thursday's meeting.

There are a lot of factors to consider when it comes to a decision that will impact the community, he said. He listed the needs of petrochemical plants and surrounding industries as economic drivers that need to be considered.

"We have the community in mind," Ruschhaupt said. "We realize we cannot do the same thing and expect a different result."

Milewski said it's the responsibility of the commissioners to review all the options available for the community and make the decision that suits its needs.

With all the information presented by Gallagher and submitted by Boutique Air and Sun Air, he believes the airport commission has all the information it needs to make a recommendation.

If it cannot come to a recommendation, Milewski said he would ask the DOT for an extension.

"If they feel they need more time, they might say they need more time," Milewski said.

The commission has assessed what the community wants in a commercial air service, said County Judge Don Pozzi, and it has identified problems that need fixing.

"This isn't something that we're deciding hastily," he said.

By Thursday's meeting, Pozzi believes the commissioners and chairmen of the airport commission will be able to decide which proposal to accept.

"I have no doubt that we have done our due diligence," Pozzi said. "I think we have all the information we need."



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