BOS OKs grant to help lure more air­lines

Non­stop ser­vice to Den­ver or San Fran­cisco a pos­si­bil­ity for Yuma air­port

Yuma Sun - - FRONT PAGE - BY BLAKE HER­ZOG @BLAKEHERZOG

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.

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