Victoria air service resumes with Sun Air


Oct. 1, 2012 at 5:01 a.m.
Updated Oct. 2, 2012 at 5:02 a.m.

A pilot for Sun Air prepares the twin prop airplane for departure at Victoria's Regional Airport. Monday was the first flight for the new carrier, returning air service to Victoria.

A pilot for Sun Air prepares the twin prop airplane for departure at Victoria's Regional Airport. Monday was the first flight for the new carrier, returning air service to Victoria.   Frank Tilley for The Victoria Advocate

The Victoria Regional Airport's terminal bustled with quiet activity Monday as cleaning crews wiped up smudges, travelers checked in and uniformed security personnel ensured everything was on the up-and-up.

Though a common scene for most airports, it was one long-awaited locally.

After three flightless months at the airport, Sun Air International took off in Victoria about 11:45 a.m.

Victoria's commercial air service has been grounded since Colgan Air pulled out June 30.

Monday's initial flight was the first leg of Victoria resident Joetta Rocha's weeklong trip to Cancun. The annual trip, now on its 12th or 13th year, is a family tradition.

Although she originally planned to drive to Houston, she said she was glad Victoria's air service began when it did. She read in the paper Sunday that passengers could book flights, she said, and asked her daughter to sign her up.

"This was much easier," said Rocha, one of two passengers who boarded the nine-seat plane about 11:30 a.m.

Local flights won't only help for trips out of town, Rocha said, but for visitors who make their way in to visit. Her two children venture to Victoria about twice a year each.

"We've missed our air service here," she said. "I just hope the community will sponsor it like they did the other company."

Thomas Cooper, president and CEO of Sun Air International, visited the airport to see the first flight off.

It's his policy to visit any new town his airline joins, he said, noting he found Victoria to be a welcoming community.

Cooper joked that employees cringe when he comes on site because he's picky about making sure things go smoothly. A Sun Air International sign behind the check-in counter was off-kilter by probably a quarter of an inch, he pointed out, explaining the little details matter.

"If I don't notice when something's wrong, a passenger will," he said.

Last-minute paperwork pushed the 10:15 a.m. flight back about an hour, he noted, but he hoped to have each minor detail ironed out soon.

Cooper, a former pilot of 30 years, said customer service was his company's main goal.

Efforts to improve service include added flights - four round-trip flights between Houston and Victoria during weekdays and two on Saturday and Sunday - as well as an extra plane to avoid rescheduled flights because of mechanical issues.

Interline ticketing and baggage agreements also allow passengers with connecting flights to check bags and go through security just once.

Sun Air rehired personnel who had previously worked at the airport, Cooper said, and established a two-person maintenance hub for the planes. Still, he said, he hoped to hire two to three more licensed airplane mechanics in the near future.

Jason Milewski, the airport's manager, found himself busy on Monday, running back and forth to work out last-minute details. Still, as passengers prepared to board, he said he was glad to see operations under way.

"We expected zero people today," he said with a smile. "This is great."

Cooper, too, said he was proud of the new beginning.

"I like to think that, with our agreements and arrangements, this airport is a gateway to the world," he said. "Via Houston."



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