BOS OKs grant to help lure more airlines
Nonstop service to Denver or San Francisco a possibility for Yuma airport
The Yuma County Board of Supervisors approved a $20,000 matching grant Monday to help Yuma International Airport attract another airline to its schedule, potentially bringing nonstop service to Denver or San Francisco.
Gladys Brown, executive director of the Yuma County Airport Authority, said airport administration plans to apply for a $700,000 Small Community Air Service Development grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation later this month.
These grants, awarded to five to eight smaller airlines each year, act as revenue guarantees which can be used to attract additional airlines to add new routes to smaller, non-hub airports.
“It doesn’t mean they’re going to exercise it unless that airliner, that air carrier, doesn’t meet the minimum revenue that they projected.” Brown explained to the board.
She said she has been in talks with one airline, which she did not name, that is willing to send a letter of support for the grant application and has signaled its interest in evaluating whether the Yuma airport would be a good fit.
The agenda item, a Friday addendum to the originally published agenda, stated the grant application was for service to Denver, but Brown said the potential options had expanded that same day.
One reason for the carrier’s interest is the high number of Canadian winter visitors in Yuma. American Airlines, which currently offers flights between to Phoenix and will add service to Dallas-Fort Worth in March, is no longer offering connections to Canadian airline WestJet.
As a result, the percentage of travelers from the Yuma area who travel to other cities for airline service has jumped from 52 percent to 60 percent, she said.
The potential second airline offers direct connections to Air Canada, she said. Yuma’s agriculture
sector, and its need for travel to and from produce hubs in northern California, has also caught their interest.
“This air carrier understands our northwest passage, but they also understand our agribusiness so they’re very interested in that, and they also know there are some connections that roll over into Europe and Asia,” she said.
Matching grants, letters and other indications of local support are all considerations when awarding these types of grants, Brown said.
The board agreed to write a letter of support that wouldn’t name a specific destination, and to allocate $20,000 from its contingency fund for economic development for the match. County Administrator Susan Thorpe said there is about $90,000 available in that fund for the current fiscal year.
That was slightly under the airport authority’s original request of $25,000, after Supervisor Russell McCloud said he was “uncomfortable” with allocating that much funding outside of the annual budget process.
He was also worried that bringing in another carrier might cut into American Airlines’ revenue: “I have some concerns that we open up another market and dilute what we have, and it doesn’t work well for anyone.”
Brown reassured him that wouldn’t happen, because airlines generally don’t come into a new market to compete with another on an existing route, and she doesn’t want that to happen.
“DFW (service) is set to take in about 10 to 20 percent of the market, so there’s still about 40 percent of the market which would utilize that service. We try not to cannibalize, or pull from American’s number,” she said.
Brown said the airline she’s been speaking with had been interested in the Yuma market in the past.
“We missed the first set with this group because they were looking into entering 15 new markets, and I will tell you as a county, one of the things that pulled them away from us, was when you go online and look at the unemployment numbers, they said that made them take us off the table,” she said.
Yuma County’s federally reported unemployment rate has historically been well above the state or national average, and often ranks with next-door Imperial County, Calif., as the highest in the country.
So she scheduled a meeting to explain seasonal and other factors behind those numbers. “Typically I only get 15 minutes with them, and they gave me two hours,” she said.
Though the revenue guarantees offered through the federal grant are available for four years or more, Brown said after the meeting she expects something to happen relatively quickly, if at all.
“I think if anything, 2020 will probably be the year,” she said. “It’s OK if it takes longer, but when you do, the airlines will be starting to wonder why we have not been successful.”
In other action Monday the board:
• Cancelled an auction scheduled for the meeting on an excess property it owns at 12107 S. Sandra Drive in the Foothills, after the single interested buyer told the county on Friday he was no longer interested in making a bid.
• Approved 12 requests for commuting vehicle usage for calendar year 2019.
• Appointed Patty Ogden to the Public Safety Personnel Retirement System and Corrections Officer Retirement Plan boards.