Victoria Regional Airport

Clouds drift over Victoria Regional Airport, partially covering it in shadow.

Victoria’s airport director is again asking for a waiver from the federal government so it can continue subsidizing commercial air service in Victoria.

The U.S. Department of Transportation has threatened to pull the federal subsidy that allows Victoria to attract a commercial airliner, according to an order from the department.

Communities the size of Victoria are able to attract airlines thanks to the Essential Air Service, a program that gives funding to airlines so they can afford to fly into and out of smaller cities, such as Victoria; Morgantown, W.Va.; and Lancaster, Pa.

But to qualify for the subsidy, a community must maintain an average of 10 passengers or more per service day.

The federal government is also prohibited from subsidizing each passenger’s ticket by more than $200.

In the 2018 fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30, 2018, Victoria averaged about eight customers per day, making the federal government’s subsidy about $531 per passenger.

The Department of Transportation said it had “tentatively decided” to terminate Victoria’s eligibility for the program.

The county airport director, however, is asking for a waiver because a new airline has taken over operations at the airport since the end of the 2018 fiscal year, and the average number of daily passengers has jumped from eight to 14.

Lenny Llerena, the airport director, requested a waiver from the federal government in an April 15 letter, pointing to the increase in passengers flying to and from Victoria since Boutique Air started serving the community in November.

Llerena said he was confident Victoria would be granted the waiver given the increase in average travelers.

During a meeting Friday, airport commissioners discussed Boutique’s schedule and operations. Llerena said there were 932 total passengers in March, which he said was a really strong month.

“We haven’t done those numbers (since) all the way back to the Continental Express days,” he said.

Llerena told commissioners the airline was “back on track” after a period in February when the airline had to cancel multiple flights because of weather and other complications.

J.D. Kennedy, the district director for U.S. Rep. Michael Cloud, told commissioners that after a recent flight from Houston to Victoria was canceled, the Victoria congressman ended up renting a van and driving all of the airline’s passengers back to Victoria.

“I think at this point it’s definitely been addressed,” Kennedy said about the airline’s reliability.

Llerena said some of the airline’s problems in February were due to weather, and other issues were because the Department of Transportation had tasked the company with starting service so quickly, giving them less than two months to start business in Victoria.

Victoria appears likely to receive a waiver from the Department of Transportation, considering that the federal government has granted the airport waivers for the past several years.

Llerena also told commissioners that a representative from the Federal Aviation Administration would visit the airport in July for a land use and lease audit to make sure the airport and all of its clients were in line with federal regulations.

Llerena also briefed commissioners on the March 2019 Texas Mile event, which the airport hosts twice a year.

The most recent auto-racing event brought in more than $20,000 in revenue for the airport, he said.

Ciara McCarthy covers local government for the Victoria Advocate as a Report for America corps member. You can reach her at cmccarthy@vicad.com or at 580-6597 or on Twitter at @mccarthy_ciara.

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Ciara McCarthy covers local government for the Advocate as a Report for America corps member. You can contact her by emailing cmccarthy@vicad.com.

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