May 30, 2007

Airline to stop service out of Visalia and Merced airports

An airline will stop offering flights to Las Vegas from Visalia and Merced in August because of soaring fuel prices, airline officials said.

The San Joaquin Valley cities are two of more than a dozen small markets in the federal Essential Air Service program where Air Midwest, a subsidiary of Mesa Air Group, will cease service.

The airline began offering flights to Las Vegas from Visalia and Merced on 19-seater planes under the US Airways Express brand in November with a subsidy from the federal program, administered by the U.S. Department of Transportation. The program was created by Congress after the airline industry was deregulated in 1978 to ensure that smaller communities continued to have air service connecting them to major airline hubs.

In Visalia and Merced, the federal government pays the airline up to $200 per passenger but even that is not enough to offset the increase in fuel and other expenses, said Jeffrey Hartz, planning manager for the Phoenix-based Mesa Air Group.

"When we bid this contract, fuel prices were substantially lower and we expected them to stay lower," he said.

The airline wants to stop service by Aug. 19 but may be required to continue flights until the airports have a new airline.

The Associated Press
Information from: The Fresno Bee,


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