Monday, December 19, 2005
Passenger travel may return to Stockton airport
By Roman Gokhman
The San Joaquin (CA) News Service
If Stockton Metropolitan Airport Director Barry Rondinella’s crystal ball is accurate, the near future of passenger travel in San Joaquin County is very bright. In three or four years, as many as four airlines may be flying residents to various destinations in Mexico, as well as to Los Angeles and weekend trips to Las Vegas from the county-run airport. The catalyst to bring other airlines to the county, Rondiella predicts, is AeroMexico, which may begin service as early as next fall.
“After the first airline comes, it won’t be long until the second,” he said.
Although officials at the airlines that may fly from Stockton – Horizon Air, Allegiant Air and Mexicana Airlines – said it is too early to tell if their airlines will do business here, Rondinella said it was very much a possibility.
And several county residents interviewed last week in downtown Lodi said they would most likely fly out of Stockton given the chance.
“We would definitely fly out of Stockton,” Arnold residents Marla and Lonnie Allison said. “We have flown out of there before and it was much more convenient.”
Passenger service at the airport was most recently available in 2003. The Allisons said they would be willing pay up to $50 more for a flight out of Stockton than for a comparable flight from Sacramento or the Bay Area.
Rondinella said that after AeroMexico, which would fly passengers to Morelia and Guadalajara, the airport is next closest to a deal with Allegiant Air. The airline would potentially offer flights to and from Las Vegas on Friday and Sunday nights.
“We’ve been talking to them for probably four years,” he said. “We have been close (to a deal) a couple of times.”
The deal had previously fallen through, he said, because the airline did not want to be responsible for its own groundhandling for flights just two days a week. Groundhandling includes running the ticket counters, moving the “air stair” trucks, chalking the wheels of the plane and most other duties on the ground.
However, when AeroMexico starts flights, that airline will provide groundhandling for the entire airport, Rondinella said, so Allegiant would be able to use that service as well.
Allegiant Air spokeswoman Tyri Squyers said there is no deal in place right now.
“We have had conversations with Stockton, but that’s about it for now,” Squyers said. “We are talking to a number of airports across the state.”
Still, most of the residents interviewed Thursday said they would jump at the chance to go on a weekend getaway to Las Vegas.
“I would go to Vegas because I have a grandchild there,” Lodi resident Bruce Pfeifle said. “It sounds like a good deal.”
He said that if service to Mexico was available, he might also go there for a vacation.
Stockton resident Alan Rudd said his decision would be based on time and money. For a weekend trip to Las Vegas, he would probably fly from Stockton instead of Sacramento, he said.
“Time is the most important thing if you’re talking about a quick getaway,” he said.
But for a longer vacation, in Mexico, for example, cost would decide where he flew from.
“If Sacramento was significantly cheaper than Stockton, I would go through there,” he said.
Rondinella said that service to Los Angeles, if it happens, would most likely be provided by Horizon Airlines.
“They are expecting a lot of new airplanes in ’07,” he said. “They will want to bring those airplanes to Northern California to airports such as ours.”
Horizon Media Relations Manager Jen McSkimming confirmed that the airline is getting 12 extra aircraft.
“We have talked to Stockton, as we have with numerous other airports in Northern California,” she said. “We haven’t made any decisions … at this time about which airports we will serve.”
Lodi resident Betty Pfeifle, Bruce Pfeifle’s mother, said she would definitely fly from Stockton to Los Angeles if the option were available.
“It’s convenient – all the time elements are there,” she said.
There is also a possibility that Mexicana Airlines may come to Stockton. Rondinella said the airline has filed paperwork at the federal level to land airplanes at the airport, but the deal is still a ways off.
“I don’t think we’re knocking at the door by any chance, so it’s wait and see,” he said. “Right now, I have nothing in writing from anyone else (other than AeroMexico).”
Passenger service may begin as soon as next September, he said. AeroMexico originally planned to begin operations in May or June 2006, but the county will need more time to build and staff a federal inspections station for international flights.