Advocate Editorial Board opinion: Victoria airport needs marketing campaign, good carrier

Aug. 2, 2014 at 11:57 a.m.

A growing, healthy city needs an airport to match.

Unfortunately, Victoria Regional Airport has been sinking at the same time the Crossroads economy has been rising. Sun Air's poor service gave Crossroads passengers plenty of reasons to look for other options: canceled flights, lost baggage and ticketing problems topping the list. From 2012 to 2013, Victoria passenger numbers dropped an alarming 45 percent.

Victoria County commissioners took the needed step earlier this year of switching carriers from Sun Air to Public Charters. That change takes effect Oct. 1.

The challenge is to undo the damage and persuade Crossroads residents to try flying out of Victoria again. The commissioners voted last week to spend up to $150,000 on a marketing campaign, with $100,000 of that expense being paid for by a federal grant.

This also is a necessary step, but it won't work if the new carrier performs like the old one. Public Charters promises to be different, offering a much better plane and service to Austin and Dallas instead of Houston. Other key success factors will be fares, flight times and reliability. Business travelers need to know they can bank on the service.

If they can, the Victoria airport will be viable again under the federal Essential Air Service program, which supports smaller airports. The airport offers free parking, easy check-in and - best of all - no two-hour-or-more drive to Houston, San Antonio or Austin. This formula worked well when a Continental subsidiary provided service and direct connections in Houston for many years.

After that company withdrew service in 2012, the county turned to Sun Air. Two years later, Crossroads residents are more reluctant to fly out of Victoria than ever.

Wanting more control this time, the commissioners signed an Alternate Essential Air Service contract with Public Charter. This program is designed to give more power to the community served by an airline.

Federal support for the service goes to the county, which then contracts with an airline. Basically, this gives the county more leverage to insist on better performance.

If the new airline fails to deliver, the county will be able to move much more quickly this time. The airport can't afford another two years like the last.

Those against this government spending might argue the airport is a lost cause. Such a view is short-sighted and fails to take into account where Victoria is headed.

The trajectory for the Crossroads is up, up, up. This message needs to be delivered in the airport's upcoming marketing campaign. All should get on and enjoy the ride.

This editorial reflects the views of the Victoria Advocate's editorial board.



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