Modesto to get Airline Service

Thursday, April 6, 2006
Flights from Modesto to LA coming
Service is scheduled to start this summer
The Modesto (CA) Bee

Direct flights between Modesto and Los Angeles will start in late June under an agreement with SkyWest, Modesto city officials said Wednesday. Three or more flights a day, seven days a week, will be offered by SkyWest’s United Express airline for one year, according to the agreement. “It will be delightful to not have to drive to an airport 100 miles away in order to go to Los Angeles,” said Joy Madison, president of the Modesto Chamber of Commerce.

Tuesday night, the Modesto City Council approved an airline revenue agreement with SkyWest. It’s been at least 10 years since flights from Modesto to Los Angeles have been offered, said Michael Musca, manager of the Modesto Airport.

It’s not known how much the airline will charge for the new service. Calls to United Express and SkyWest were not returned Wednesday.

A survey conducted by the city last year concluded that most local business owners would be willing to pay $40 to $60 more fora round-trip ticket to Los Angeles if they could fly from Modesto. A round-trip flight from Oakland International Airport to Los Angeles costs about $200.

The agreement runs from June 8 through May 31, 2007. But flights probably won’t start until the end of June, Musca said.

“The airline is trying to reserve good time slots in LA, andthey have to enter those flights in the reservation system 60 days in advance,” he said. “They don’t want it so people flying to Los Angeles for connecting flights have to wait three or four hours for the next departures.”

Workers already are expanding the airport parking lot from the terminal to the control tower in anticipation of having more customers. Airport parking still will be free, Musca said.

United Express was the natural choice for the new Los Angeles service because it has offered four flights a day from Modesto to San Francisco for the past eight years, Musca said.

“United Express already has the ground crews and the office staff here,” he said. “We already have the passenger screening area.”

Airline officials have told the city they could start with four flights per day on weekdays, three flights on weekends, Musca said.

Those trips would be early morning, midmorning, early afternoon and evening, he said.

“The early morning and evening flights are the most useful for business travelers,” he said. “If they left Modesto at 6 a.m., they could be in Los Angeles by 7:15 a.m. and at their business meeting in downtown LA by 8 a.m.”

In return for the service, the city will pay the airline up to $550,000 if there are not enough customers to make the flights profitable, Musca said. Most of that money will come from a grant the city received last year from the federal Department of Transportation.

United Express will use Embraer 120 turboprop airplanes for the flights, which can seat 30 passengers. According to the agreement, the airline has to earn $2,043 per flight in order to cover its costs.

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