Airline set to take off Sept. 8


At a time when airlines across the country are cutting back on flights and destinations, Wyoming-based Great Lakes Airlines is expanding — to Visalia Municipal Airport.

“We’ve been trying to get down here for the past four years, and we’ve finally made it,” Great Lakes CEO Charles Howell told the Visalia City Council Monday. “And we plan on staying here for awhile.”

Great Lakes is scheduled to begin passenger air service to and from Southern California’s Ontario International Airport Sept. 8.

The airline will be paid a $1.6 million federal subsidy to serve Visalia travelers.

Fares will start at $138 per round trip, officials said.

“You can fly from Visalia to Ontario for less than the price of a speeding ticket,” Howell said.

Visalia Airport Manager Mario Cifuentez said Visalia-based flight personnel from Mesa Air Group, which formerly served Visalia, will remain Great Lakes employees. Mesa’s Air Midwest subsidiary provided subsidized air service to and from McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas from November 2006 to May 30 of this year.

“That provides continuity,” Cifuentez said.

Federal security screeners, who were transferred to Fresno-Yosemite Airport

while awaiting Great Lakes’ arrival, will be recalled to staff the Visalia security checkpoint, Cifuentez said.

Ontario International Airport is an appealing alternative to often-crowded Los Angeles International Airport, Great Lakes and city officials said.

Previous air carriers, including Mesa, had used only Las Vegas as the transfer destination out of Visalia.

Out-of-town airports
Las Vegas is “not off our radar screen,” Howell said, but that could change.

“We can add that destination as soon as our Ontario flights are established,” he said.

Troublesome, traffic-choked commutes and expensive daily parking fees at Fresno and Los Angeles airports can be avoided using a Visalia-to-Ontario connection as a starting point, said Greg Collins, Visalia city councilman.

“I had to pay $90 for nine days for parking at the Fresno airport,” Collins said. “[Flights to Ontario] might be a better way to go.”

Howell said he and Great Lakes’ director of sales and marketing, Monica Taylor, endured a slow, difficult trip from Ontario to Visalia just to get to the council session Monday.

“That’s why we were late getting here,” Taylor said. “Traffic was awful. Soon, we can just fly here from Ontario.”

Howell said that while Visalia has seen carriers come and go, Great Lakes “is here in Visalia to stay.” The company plans to apply immediately for membership in the Visalia Chamber of Commerce and other business groups.