Sunday, March 23, 2014

Chico Municipal Airport (KCIC), California

Editorial: Does the Chico airport need saving?

What if it took a one airline ticket to San Francisco flight to save air service in Chico, or one ticket not bought here to sink it?

Obviously it's not that simple, but the message is becoming clear there's a reason to be concerned.

While the City Council has fretted over the airport budget, no one has wrung their hands over the future of air service in Chico, except the Chico Airport Commission.

At its quarterly meetings the commission has said it's worried that Chico's only passenger air carrier, United Airlines through United Express, will pull out.

The commission also fretted about how to boost passenger levels at the Chico airport, in part, to keep United here. While Chico loves air service, residents aren't rushing to use it.

To this point, there has been no hint from United that it's considering abandoning Chico, but the commission is justifiably nervous after hearing about Sonoma County, which found itself airline-less for about five years.

A recent speaker here said United pulled out without notice, while expanding elsewhere.

While Chico has reached out to United in letters and phone calls, the response has not been reassuring or hopeful.

We don't know what United thinks about Chico. As much as we'd like to feel comfortable there are good reasons we can't.

Passenger numbers on the United Express flights have never been outstanding from this end. On the San Francisco end, fog, air traffic congestion, and reliability leave our air travelers stranded or on the run. That's not optimum for consumer confidence.

You can't blame them for driving to Sacramento.

Seeing this collapsing scenario, the Airport Commission has sounded the horn, saying we might lose what we have.

A business advocate, the Chico chamber has shown finesse and leadership in dealing with business-impacting issues. It seemed reasonable for the Airport Commission to turn to the chamber and business community for help in finding solutions for the airport.

Maybe Chico needs to decide if keeping the service is worth sacrifices like paying more for tickets — which it generally does — or dealing with the current San Francisco handicaps.

We'd hate to find out what it's like to be without air service, so we hope the community steps up on this one.

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