Saturday, November 14, 2015

Not much hope for Allegiant: Chico Municipal Airport (KCIC) Butte County, California

Aside from the fact I love airplanes and anything aviation, it’s always fascinating to see what’s going on at the Chico Municipal Airport.

Or in this case, what’s not there.

Next month — on Dec. 2 — it will be exactly one year since Chico lost its only air passenger service. Directed by United Airlines, SkyWest Airlines discontinued service between Chico and San Francisco, saying it was a financial decision.

It’s been a blow to Chico and the surrounds whose travelers have had to find other ways to get out of town. There were plenty of problems with the Chico to San Fran flight, mostly caused by weather and delays at the other end.

Understandably, air passengers had to be sure their transportation was dependable, and hence many abandoned Chico for Sacramento.

The city, the Chico Chamber and others have been diligently exploring alternatives since, but there was a glimmer of hope recently.

I had heard that Maury Gallagher, CEO of Las Vegas-based Allegiant Airlines, might be in town. It would have been nice to have an airlines official in Chico no matter what, considering our loss, but Gallagher used to be a pretty firm fixture in Chico. He was one of the founders of WestAir Airlines, which was based in Chico. Earlier this year, he was scheduled to talk at Chico State’s Center for Entrepreneurship, but bowed out because of sickness.

I emailed Gallagher after hearing Allegiant mentioned last month during the AvPORTS presentation on the Chico airport. Last week I chatted with Jude Bricker, senior vice president of planning for Allegiant.

He said there’s not much interest in Chico. Actually, none.

Bricker went through issue after issue that Chico faces. Airlines are flying bigger planes, roughly in the 150-seat capacity, for cost efficiency. Chico would be hard pressed to fill that, even once a week, he said. Chico had issues filling the 30-seater that SkyWest flew in three times a week.

“We’re not in active negotiations (with Chico) and have no plans for service,” he told me.

What could we do to interest an airlines, I asked. A subsidy program or other incentive was the first thing he mentioned, and then some way to assure the airlines that passengers would come.

He mentioned Sacramento’s closeness as a hefty black mark against Chico.

But he didn’t rule everything out, saying he couldn’t speak for other airlines.

I can’t say I was surprise, but wouldn’t it have made a great column for me to announce some positive airline news? Maybe one day.

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