Victoria Regional Airport selects new airline service

June 13, 2012 at 1:13 a.m.
Updated June 14, 2012 at 1:14 a.m.

Flying out of Victoria is about to get cheaper and easier.

Sun Air International, a Florida-based airline service, is expected to begin providing four daily flights to Houston Intercontinental Airport starting in late July.

Victoria Regional Airport Manager Jason Milewski called it "a game changer for everything."

"It almost would put us in a better situation than what we had," he said. "It's more accessibility for our traveling public."

Airport commissioners on Wednesday decided to recommend the airline as a replacement for Colgan Air Inc., which will discontinue service June 30.

Milewski said they support Sun Air because of its agreements with all the major carriers, which would get passengers on their way faster. Those agreements also allow passengers to book one ticket for their trip, rather than one to Houston and a separate one for the remainder of the trip.

Passengers also will only have to check their bags and go through security once, which was not an option with the other airline proposal from SeaPort Airlines, based in Portland, Ore.

Sun Air is proposing to fly a nine-passenger, twin-engine Piper Chieftain aircraft. Its fares will cost between $39 and $59 each way with an average of $44.

Trey Ruschhaupt, chairman of the airport commission, said he supports Sun Air.

"One of the major setbacks was having to go through security, check your baggage and recheck your baggage," he said. "Now you won't have to do that, and that's a big plus."

Either airline would come to Victoria as part of federally subsidized Essential Air Service program. Sun Air is asking for a $2.3 million annual subsidy, or $857 per departure. SeaPort asked for $1.8 million, and estimated average ticket price would be $62 to Houston Intercontinental.

SeaPort has previously participated in the federal program, this would be Sun Air's first time, Milewski said.

Although SeaPort's subsidy calculation is lower than Sun Air's, Milewski said the interline and baggage agreements were a huge consideration.

"Both companies check out well," Milewski said. "With Sun Air, it's a little more difficult because they're new to the essential air service market, but they're not new to flying passengers."

Ruschhaupt said his goal is still to bring in a major airline. If not for labor and bankruptcy issues, it would have happened by now, he said.

"We feel like it's our responsibility to provide air service and the best air service that's available," he said.

Because Sun Air will have two planes at the airport, schedule reliability will increase dramatically. Milewski said that was a major issue with Colgan Air.

When weather or mechanical problems caused a cancellation, it would snowball into missed connections and ruined trips.

"If a flight was canceled, you're done," he said. "It was a major reason people chose not to fly out of this airport."

But with double the flights and an extra plane on hand, the impact is less devastating, he said.

Ruschhaupt said the most important thing is for people to use the service.

"It's basic economics," he said. "If people don't use them, then they're not going to stick their necks out or stick their money out" for better service.

Like others on the commission, Ruschhaupt wants to upgrade the proposed nine-passenger aircraft to a twin-engine, turbine plane. He also wants to extend direct service to Dallas from Victoria.

"We would love to have service to Dallas, and we would like to have a different airplane, but we really have to go with the best that's offered to us right now," he said.

County Judge Don Pozzi agreed.

Pozzi said upgrading to a twin-engine plane will satisfy human resource restrictions for area corporations looking to fly out of Victoria.

"All this is a plus," he said. "It's going to be a good thing for Victoria."



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