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Business

Businesswoman to Launch Commuter Airline in Lompoc

A startup airline intends to begin operating from the Lompoc Airport to transport passengers to Bakersfield and Long Beach and convince Californians to bypass their automobiles. 

Dubbed Wine Country Airlines, the firm intends to begin selling tickets in December and start flying passengers in February, according to Shannon Kane, project manager.

The airline will provide regularly scheduled air service, Mayor John Linn said.

“It’s a great opportunity for Lompoc to bring more people here to enjoy our wonderful community and a great way for us to go places without having to drive,” Linn said, adding that instead of a five-hour road trip the airline would shave off travel time.

Patricia Kerrigan, who is vice president for the Dash Group aviation software firm based in Vandenberg Village, is launching the airline with a goal of eliminating freeway driving for local residents and visitors, according to Kane. 

Kerrigan did not return calls for comment.

Linn said he connected Kerrigan with the organizations expected to bring employees to attend the Allan Hancock College Public Safety Training Complex at the Lompoc Valley Center.

“She was pretty well invested in the wine industry. That was part of their plan,” he added.

Round-trip tickets reportedly will cost approximately $200, according to Kane.

“We’re trying to beat the current market as well as what people would be spending on gas,” Kane added.

The owners also are eyeing flights between Sacramento and Lompoc.

“It’s going to be very dependent with how the market fares with the first two destinations,” Kane said. 

Wine Country Airlines reportedly intends to use Cessna Grand Caravan 208B aircraft, which can carry up to nine passengers, according to several sources.

Skydive Santa Barbara, which is based at the airport, has a Cessna Grand Caravan in its fleet. 

City officials could not say what type of federal certificate under which the airline would operate. 

“That wasn’t anything I had to worry about,” said Linn, who touted the new airline in the days leading up to the election, in which he lost his bid to continue serving as mayor.

Typically, an air carrier needs federal certificates saying it has the economic authority and safety authority to operate. It's not known if the federal certificates have been obtained.

Richard Fernbaugh, aviation/transportation administrator,  told the Lompoc Airport Commission last week that the new commuter airline wouldn’t trigger Transportation Security Administration requirements at the airport.

Those requirements, implemented after the 2001 terrorist attacks on the East Coast, brought security fencing, badges and screening points to airports with commercial passenger air service, irritating private pilots suddenly forced to deal with increased regulations to access airfields.

However, a passenger transferring from the small airline to a commuter carrier at a larger airport most likely would have to go through screening before boarding a commercial airline.

Kerrigan has considered Lompoc for a startup commuter airline for five years but began getting focusing on making it a reality a year ago, according to Kane.

Kerrigan registered the website domain name in late July, although the page remains a placeholder.

Fernbaugh told the Airport Commission last week that Kerrigan is involved in a nine-plane airline in Hawaii and a six-plane airline in Alaska. 

“She knows what she’s doing," he told commissioners. "She’s been in the business.”

However, Kerrigan has no apparent involvement in those airlines, beyond the fact they are listed on her software firm’s website as clients who use the products. 

Linn said Kerrigan is involved in a Hawaii commuter airline plus another airline to transport oil workers to the site in Canada.

Her assistant said Kerrigan was involved in the formation of the Mokulele Airlines in Hawaii.

Wine Country Airlines will lease two tie-down spots on the airfield plus two rooms of the Airport Administration Office, which will receive a fresh coat of paint and new carpet for its new role as a passenger terminal.

The firm will pay $650 a month in rent with a one-year contract that calls for a renewal options plus an increase based on the Consumer Price Index. The agreement also includes guarantees to purchase 1,000 gallons of fuel per month.

Fernbaugh said the airport expects to make about $7,000 from the new operation in the first year. 

The Lompoc council approved the terms of the agreement in a September closed session, but will consider formally approving the lease in December, city officials said. 

Fernbaugh also told the airport commission he has other questions he is seeking to get answered, such as what type of striping the airport may need to install and where passenger loading and unloading will occur.

The move-in date is expected to be early December.

“I’m not moving on it until I get their insurance,” Fernbaugh said. “That’s the last thing I need.”

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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