Airline restructures, flies out of Victoria

March 9, 2012 at 5:01 p.m.
Updated March 9, 2012 at 9:10 p.m.

The future of Victoria Regional Airport is up in the air.

Memphis-based Colgan Air, Inc. announced Friday its intention to leave Victoria, as well as six other airports across the United States, sparking the start of a replacement search that could take up to a year to complete.

Because of its contract with essential air service, a federal program that subsidizes smaller airports, it cannot leave Victoria until a new airline moves in.

Jason Milewski, Victoria Regional Airport manager, said Friday's notice was a surprise, but not "devastating news."

"Typically, the service markets are marginal in profitability," he said. "In some cases, when the decision is made to just pull out of every one of them, even though they might not be losing money here, they might be able to make money elsewhere."

Colgan Air, which has been in Victoria since 2005, filed a 90-day petition with the Department of Transportation late Thursday, indicating it would not renew its bid in Victoria, said Jeff Williams, a spokesman for Pinnacle Airlines Corp., Colgan's parent company.

Speculation of Pinnacle filing for bankruptcy has recently made its way into headlines, but Williams said he could not comment about the issue.

"There are a number of negotiations going on with key partners," he said. "We can't comment until all of those conversations are concluded."

Colgan Air Inc. was involved in a fatal crash in 2009 that killed 50 people and prompted new regulations to reduce pilot fatigue.

Earlier this month, federal officials proposed a $153,000 fine for allegedly operating 17 flights without giving pilots or flight attendants the required minimum amount of rest.

In an emailed statement, Williams said the move to leave Victoria was a way for Colgan to better concentrate its network and focus resources in principal areas of operations.

The U.S. Department of Transportation will take bids on Victoria air service during the 90-day period.

Other airports affected include Altoona and Johnstown, Pa.; Staunton, Va.; and Beckley, Clarksburg and Morgantown, W.Va. Victoria's airport is the only one in Texas involved in the federal subsidy.

"Essentially, Colgan is restructuring their company," Milewski said. "What it means is, it's about the same type of situation we go through every two years, instead of waiting till 2013, we're bidding it now."

Milewski remained optimistic about the news.

"The best outcome could mean we have new options, new routes to look at and possibly more frequent flights than we have now," he said. "It really could be a blessing in disguise."

While bidding for a new airport is open, passengers will not notice any interruptions in service or hikes in fares, Milewski said.



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