Airport commission recommends a change in airlines

Jessica  Rodrigo By Jessica Rodrigo

May 1, 2014 at 12:01 a.m.
Updated May 2, 2014 at 12:02 a.m.

Victoria airport officials want to create a new dawn of airline service for the Crossroads.

Members of the Victoria County Airport Commission on Thursday said they are unhappy with Sun Air International's performance and decided to end its service.

"We've seen performance, we've seen problems, and we've heard promises," said Victoria County Judge Don Pozzi, who is also a member of the airport commission. "Only now that the contract is coming to an end, we are getting more promises."

Sun Air's contract expires Sept. 30.

Airport commission members agreed to recommend Public Charters Inc., which is based in Pennsylvania, as the new service for Victoria Regional Airport. The recommendation now goes to the Victoria County Commissioners Court and to the Department of Transportation.

Despite not having a full proposal to review from Public Charters Inc., the airport commission members decided it was in the best interest of the community to change commercial air services.

If the transportation department awards Public Charters the service, the changes would include a new destination to Austin and Dallas, fewer flights, no interline agreement with other airlines in ticketing and a larger commuter-style 19-seat plane.

Mark Cestari, vice president of marketing for Sun Air International, believes the decision was made without fair representation of each proposed service.

Of the three proposals, only Public Charters was allowed to make a live presentation to the airport commission during a public meeting Wednesday for questions and comments. The other two proposals - from Sun Air and from Boutique Air - submitted only paperwork.

"We made our best case," Cestari said. "I think the commission had other reasons for wanting to do this."

During the meeting Thursday, Cestari presented a list of points that he believes were not considered during the comment period. Those points included the possibility of losing the interline agreement Sun Air has with other airlines and changes to the flight destinations, baggage capabilities and frequency.

Victoria resident Carl Bankston attended the meeting to defend the interline agreement that Sun Air offers.

"The most important thing is the interline agreement," he said during the meeting. "I would not want to have to check in again."

Houston also offers more available connecting flights as a hub service, Bankston said, while flights to Austin would require travelers to purchase additional tickets for a connecting flight.

He said if he and his wife were traveling with two bags each, they would have to claim their bags in Austin then recheck their bags and go through security again.

"If Public Charters can get an interline agreement, I would fly with them," Bankston said after the meeting.

Sun Air changed ownership earlier this year and has been working to improve service and to repair its negative image, Cestari said.

He said he believes Sun Air was repairing its relationship with the community, but commissioners were unwilling to open their minds to the recent changes.

"I don't have a lot of confidence that they want us there," Cestari said. "There are a lot of bruised egos and hurt feelings; they don't want to be confronted with that."

Pozzi said the commission has done everything in its power to make the recommendation that best fits the community.

"Nothing is being ignored," he said about Cestari's concerns.

Trey Ruschhaupt, an airport commission member, said it was time for a change.

"Public perception is what we've had to deal with," he said. "The public wants to go to Dallas."



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