Victoria Regional Airport manager outlines plans for after carrier leaves June 30

JR Ortega By JR Ortega

May 29, 2012 at 12:29 a.m.

Peter McNally had every detail of his summer vacation to Ireland planned when the unexpected happened: The airline he booked on took off - literally.

McNally, the program director for the Victoria Business and Education Coalition, planned to fly out of Victoria Regional Airport, which learned last week its air service, Colgan Air Inc., would end June 30.

The company filed for bankruptcy in February.

McNally's flight was for July 1.

"Now, I've got to make arrangements to go to George Bush Intercontinental Airport," McNally said.

Jason Milewski, airport manager, talked specifics at Tuesday morning's Victoria Economic Development Corp. partnership meeting.

Milewski appeared frustrated over the circumstance, yet, a hint of hopefulness in his tone remained.

"This update is not one of those positive things," he told the crowd.

Those at the meeting learned the Crossroads is not the problem when it comes to securing an air service.

An air service study showed about 300,000 people in the Crossroads fly annually, but what's more worrisome is that Victoria Regional catches only 3 percent of those flyers, Milewski said.

Business travelers, who make up anywhere from 60 to 70 percent of Victoria Regional flyers, will take a large hit when Victoria Regional loses the air service, Milewski said.

"They are a huge part of our service," Milewski said.

The reason airlines are not latching onto Victoria Regional is because it is an essential air service airport, a federal program that subsidizes smaller airports.

Being in the program is nothing to be proud of, Milewski said. The program is only there to help smaller airports reach the next step.

Major airliners typically do not look to smaller airports, Instead, smaller carriers serve those markets. When a bigger airliner, like Pinnacle Airlines Corp., gets on board, the prices rise significantly and the number of flights is limited.

Right now, only two flights are made from Victoria Regional and it costs two to three times more to travel from Victoria than from Houston.

This is all the more reason Milewski is pushing to find an air service fast.

"If we can attract a viable airline, I firmly believe within three years, we'd be out of the EAS program," he said.

Victoria Regional has been in the program about 12 years, said Victoria County Judge Donald Pozzi.

The plan, he and Milewski said, is to keep opening up for bidding. Also, the airport is looking at an alternate EAS program, in which the money and authority is given directly to the county.

Not having commercial flights would be a hit for Victoria's economy, Pozzi said.

"This is being worked on every day," Pozzi said. "This will affect the entire community."

But for now, the airport will continue weighing the options and hoping for the best, Milewski said.

"We're going to go dark for a while," Milewski said. "This can go on almost indefinitely."



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