‘Boo’: County not thrilled on pending loss of regular Vegas flights | Featured

EL CENTRO–Even before casting the lone “no” vote Tuesday on a proposal to terminate regular air service between Imperial and Las Vegas, one member of the county Board of Supervisors made his opinion perfectly clear.

“Boo,” board Chairman Jesus Eduardo Escobar said as he introduced the agenda item. It asked the board to send a letter to the US Department of Transportation in support of a proposal by Imperial’s lone air carrier, Southern Airways Express, to switch its secondary hub from Las Vegas to Phoenix for logistical reasons.

The matter was approved 3-1 with Supervisor Ryan Kelley absent.

“We were very enthusiastic about Las Vegas,” Mark Cestari, Southern chief commercial officer, told the board by video link.

However, he explained, as did a letter from Southern to the county, that a combination of elevation and heat during departure (from Las Vegas) is leading to longer, more turbulent return flights that is then affecting flights to Los Angeles International Airport.

Los Angeles is the primary hub for Southern’s flights from Imperial. The carrier needs a letter from the board to Transportation before that federal agency can consider and possibly approve the change. The Transportation Department subsidizes and, in conjunction with the county, chooses and oversees the carrier for service at Imperial.

“I can’t support it. We’re bucking the trend in two months. In all due respect, you should have done your homework,” Escobar told Cestari in reference to Southern just having rolled out its Las Vegas service two months ago in a splashy reveal that included a courtesy flight offered to public officials and the media.

“I have friends in Mexicali who love Las Vegas but don’t like the four-and-a-half-hour drive. There’s some lack of marketing down in Mexicali. You could capture a significant market,” Escobar added.

Despite shortly subsequently voting in favor of sending the letter, Supervisor Michael Kelley also lamented the possible demise of regular Las Vegas flights even though Cestari said Southern would work to have flights for special events, such as Las Vegas Raiders games, and hotel packages.

“Unfortunately we need essential air service and they need the hub. But I want to make it clear we do not want to sever our ties to the Las Vegas trip,” Kelley said before making a motion to send the letter to Transportation.

If the federal agency approves the change, it would take effect in September, Cestari said.

Further detail of the issue prompting the change request is explained in a July 20 letter from Southern to the board included in a report prepared for the meeting.

“The heat and elevation issues, both at (Las Vegas) and especially between Imperial and Las Vegas, have and will continue to impact our ability to fly (Imperial to Las Vegas) reliably on time and also cause flight cancellations, which then also impact our (Imperial to Los Angeles) flight, which many Imperial flyers also have to make connection to our interline (airline partners). These extreme weather conditions are beyond our control, ”the letter sign by Cestari stated.

Additionally, Phoenix Sky Harbor airport “offers a superior combination of… domestic and international connections…” The Southern proposal calls for two flights per weekday to both Los Angeles and Phoenix and a “slightly reduced schedule on weekends.”

Southern’s service agreement for the county began May 1 and runs through April 30, 2026.

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