Pixel Tracker

Thursday, March 21 , 2019, 8:15 pm | Partly Cloudy 55º

 
 
 
 

Even With New Flights Like Allegiant’s Honolulu Run, Local Air Travel May Stall

Experts say bankruptcies and financial pressure may limit airline growth on Central Coast and elsewhere

The recent announcement that Allegiant Air will add a weekly flight to Honolulu from the Santa Maria Public Airport, and expanded service to Portland from the Santa Barbara Airport, suggest a boon in local air travel.

But airport and travel professionals say bankruptcies and other turbulence with the airline industry may have the opposite effect.

Allegiant Air announced last week that it will begin weekly flights in November between Honolulu and several West Coast cities, including Santa Maria. It is a unique service that bundles air, car and hotel rental and caters to smaller airports.

An Allegiant official said its flights to Las Vegas from Santa Maria are very popular and she expected the Honolulu flight to do well. The service begins Nov. 17 with introductory fares as low as $199 each way.

“From what I’ve heard, it has only been a day, but it has been received very well by the community, and people have already let me know they booked tickets,” said Chris Hastert, Santa Maria Airport general manager.

But as the bankrupt American Airlines considers a merger with US Airways, airports small and large probably won’t add many — if any — routes and flights, he said.

Santa Maria’s main objective has been keeping prices competitive, he added.

“The airline industry is in a difficult time right now,” said Hastert, adding that Allegiant focuses on small airports to keep costs down, with the exception of Las Vegas. “With the American bankruptcy, we’re not seeing much expansion in smaller and larger airports.

“There’s not much expansion route wise for major carriers,” he added. “American scaled back quite a bit in Santa Barbara and cut itself entirely out of San Luis Obispo. It may not have as much to do with market’s ability to fill planes than the shrinking fleet size.”

One of the reasons the Santa Barbara Airport didn’t pursue an Allegiant flight to Honolulu was because the 757 aircraft requires a runway longer than 7,000 feet, said Hazel Johns, SBA assistant director. Santa Maria recently expanded its runway to 8,000 feet, while Santa Barbara’s is about 6,000 feet.

“Having an option like the Allegiant in November will be positive for the Central Coast,” she said.

The Santa Barbara Airport currently supports five major airlines, including United Airlines, Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Frontier Airlines and US Airways.

Alaska will begin offering a seasonal flight to Portland from June 4 to Aug. 25, and SBA and the Goleta Valley Chamber of Commerce are pushing for a direct flight to San Jose.

United offered a flight to San Jose from Santa Barbara until about 10 years ago, when SkyWest filled the void. But SkyWest cut the flight in February 2010 because of low occupancy, according to Johns.

“The surveys indicate that if the service were available, they would use it,” she said. “One question the airline had asked was if passengers would prepay or subsidize the companies to make sure airlines wouldn’t lose money, and the participants were not interested in that. But there’s still a good possibility it will work.”

While United recently expanded its Santa Barbara routes to Denver, many small airports have been losing flights, including Oxnard, which lost three United flights late last year. Santa Barbara previously supported flights to Salt Lake City, Dallas and Houston.

“Honestly, the state of the airline industry is a tough read,” Johns said. “This summer, we’re anticipating a 5-percent increase in occupancy, but there are less seats available than in 2007.”

The airlines have cut back flights such as the 50-seat regional jets partly due to rising fuel prices, she added. While the Santa Barbara Airport’s load factors for each flight have been higher — around 75 percent to 80 percent — total passengers have dropped 4.5 percent from 2010 to 2011, to 721,551 passengers from 755,734.

“There’s been a hesitancy in the community with the economy and what’s happening next,” Johns said. “Once we complete our construction project for our new terminal (around July), it will benefit.”

Charles de L’Arbe of the Santa Barbara Travel Bureau noted that there is more demand for flights then there are seats.

“I think airlines have made a determined effort to cut down on available seats and reduce the frequency of flights,” he said.

In terms of flight demand, de L’Arbe’s clients appreciate the nonstop Seattle flight. But there is still demand for flights to San Jose, the Midwest and Texas, he said.

“When SkyWest dropped the service to San Jose two years ago, it was mind-boggling to me,” he said.

Despite the industry’s uncertainty, Hastert is hopeful that Santa Maria and the Central Coast will book more commercial flights as the economy turns around.

“We think there is a lot of potential here for additional service, especially to Denver,” he said.

Noozhawk staff writer Alex Kacik can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @NoozhawkBiz, @noozhawk and @NoozhawkNews. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

Support Noozhawk Today!

Our professional journalists work tirelessly to report on local news so you can be more informed and engaged in your community. This quality, local reporting is free for you to read and share, but it's not free to produce.

You count on us to deliver timely, relevant local news, 24/7. Can we count on you to invest in our newsroom and help secure its future?

We provide special member benefits to show how much we appreciate your support.

Email
I would like give...
Great! You're joining as a Red-Tailed Hawk!
  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >

Meet Your Realtor Sponsored by Village Properties

Photo of Gary Welterlen and Carla Reeves
Gary Welterlen and Carla Reeves
"We both love this business. We strive to make life long relationships from each real estate transaction."

Full Profile >