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Monday, February 18 , 2019, 12:22 am | Fair 47º


Regional Jets, San Francisco Flights Land at Santa Maria Airport

United Express debuts new aircraft and travel destinations after dropping Los Angeles flights and retiring turboprop planes

Ushering in a new era at the Santa Maria Public Airport, the first United Express regional jet took off Wednesday morning en route to San Francisco. Effective Wednesday, United Express started the Santa Maria-San Francisco route and ended the Santa Maria-Los Angeles flights.
Ushering in a new era at the Santa Maria Public Airport, the first United Express regional jet took off Wednesday morning en route to San Francisco. Effective Wednesday, United Express started the Santa Maria-San Francisco route and ended the Santa Maria-Los Angeles flights. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

A new era took off at the Santa Maria Public Airport early Wednesday morning with the takeoff of United Express regional jets flying to a different destination.

The regional jet departed with no fanfare at 6 a.m. for San Francisco, ushering in big changes for the small airport, which has struggled to expand air service while competing with airports in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo.

United Express, operated locally by Utah-based SkyWest Airlines, replaced its smaller and slower turboprop planes with larger and faster regional jets that can can carry 50 passengers.

The switch comes as United also dropped the Santa Maria-to-Los Angeles route and added Santa Maria-to-San Francisco flights, with United officials saying the move is designed to match market demand.

When the changeover was announced in March, Santa Maria airport officials called the bigger plane and new destination good news in giving passengers more connections and a smoother flight.

The new flights to San Francisco will leave Santa Maria daily at 6 a.m. and 2 p.m. Planes will arrive at Santa Maria from San Francisco daily at 1:32 p.m. and 11:47 p.m.

Passengers arrive at the Santa Maria Public Airport on a soon-to-be-retired turboprop airplane, which will be replaced by larger regional jets. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

Prior to the switch, United Express had dropped the daily round-trip flights to two in Santa Maria.

Allegiant Airlines also serves the Santa Maria airport with flights three days a week to and from Las Vegas.

SkyWest Airlines, which operates the local United Express flights, is retiring the Embraer-manufactured 30-passenger turboprop craft in favor of the 50-passenger Bombardier-manufactured CRJ200.

To bid farewell to the final flight of an Embraer, members of the Santa Maria Fire Department staged on the tarmac Monday to give a water salute to the arriving aircraft which passed under  the arch of water en route to parking near the terminal.

On Tuesday, another Embraer aircraft reportedly performed a low-flying pass before departing the skies above the airport.

An Embraer turboprop plane receives a water salute upon landing at the Santa Maria Public Airport on Monday morning. United Express is retiring the turboprop planes in favor of larger regional jets. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

Last month, United Express made a similar aircraft switch at the San Luis Obispo County Regional Airport.

Santa Maria officials are banking on the fact that they, unlike its airports to the north and south, continue to provide free parking in hopes it attracts more passengers.

But that may not overcome some of the sharp differences in ticket prices. A recent survey, using United’s website, showed that the round-trip flights to San Francisco in July or August would cost approximately $175 more from Santa Maria versus San Luis Obispo.

A June flight to Denver costs approximately $50 more when traveling from Santa Maria instead of San Luis Obispo.

This is not the first time Santa Maria has had flights to and from San Francisco, as the small airport saw regular service to the Bay Area in the 1990s. The route was canceled when the federal government stopped providing an essential air service grant to the airline providing those flights.

Santa Maria's airport officials have long struggled to boost their flights and destinations, by hiring consultants and meeting with airline representatives while battling passenger-service airports in neighboring Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo, which are both home to universities and county seats. 

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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