The Victoria Regional Airport is looking at an optimistic forecast for 2019, with a proposed budget that would see the facility break even for the first time in years.
The budget is being reviewed as the airport prepares to welcome a new airline Nov. 1, which airport leaders expect will provide better service to Victoria travelers.
“On paper, we have a balanced budget for 2019,” airport director Lenny Llerena said. “The airport has historically lost money every year. This is the first time it’s been a balanced budget.”
Llerena was hired to overhaul the airport’s operations last year, several months after Victoria County commissioners approved a change to the airport’s charter that would put the facility back in commissioners’ direct control if the airport didn’t turn around its finances within three years.
The airport’s optimistic financial forecast comes as it prepares to switch to Silver Airways on Nov. 1. Texas Sky, the commercial airline that currently flies in and out of Victoria, will stop serving the area when its contract expires Oct. 31. In June, the Victoria Regional Airport commission selected Silver Airways as its replacement.
If the budget is approved, Silver Airways will be tasked with drastically increasing ridership in order to keep air service in Victoria a reality. The Victoria Regional Airport is able to attract a commercial airline because of the federal Essential Air Service program, which subsidizes flights to airports in less populous areas.
Under Texas Sky, ridership slipped so low that the airport had to get a waiver from the U.S. Department of Transportation to keep receiving the subsidy.
Kurt Brulisauer, Silver Airways’ vice president for ground operations, said he was confident that Silver could help boost the low number of travelers flying in and out of Victoria’s airport.
Brulisauer said he expects to immediately see an increase in users.
The quick turnaround is likely to happen, Brulisauer predicts, for two reasons. First, Silver’s schedule will allow it to transport travelers to Houston at optimal times to connect to additional flights, he said. Second, Silver plans to offer competitive pricing that will make flying to Houston a more feasible option than driving for most residents.
“The goal with Victoria is basically (to) stimulate ridership by having the right amount of seats with the right low price,” Brulisauer explained.
Silver is also planning an aggressive marketing strategy and has committed to a $50,000 yearly marketing budget to advertise its flights in and out of Victoria.
Although Silver has yet to receive the green light from the federal government, Brulisauer said the company is ready to hit the ground running once federal officials make their final decision.
“Our goal is to absolutely start on Nov. 1 regardless of how much notice we get from DOT,” he said.
Historically, the U.S. Department of Transportation usually follows the recommendation of local entities when they enter into an Essential Air Service contract, but they could opt for a different airliner.
If approved, Silver Airways would provide a brand new airplane that seats 46 passengers to fly in and out of Victoria. The plane would include a full-service bathroom and be staffed by a flight attendant. Silver would offer two round-trip flights from Victoria to Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport every weekday and one round-trip flight each day on weekends.
The U.S. Department of Transportation did not respond to a request for comment Friday asking when the agency would make a final decision.
A final version of the airport’s budget will be approved as part of the county’s budget in September.