IMPERIAL COUNTY — Southern Airways Express expressed concerns and a request to change the secondary hub of Imperial Airport from Las Vegas to Phoenix at the Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday, July 26.
Mark Cestari, Chief Commercial Officer of Southern Airways Express, was invited to speak from online to present the concerns and request of Southern Airways Express. “The situation is as follows, we were very enthusiastic about Las Vegas as a second destination,” began Cestari “We had been providing four trips a day to LAX, and we thought Vegas would be a nice addition, being in a different geographic direction, and for many other reasons.”
Cestari cited both the elevation and the heat as reasons for the recent disruptions that flights going to Las Vegas had been experiencing. “Unfortunately, because of these conditions, being both the elevation and the heat, we have been having a lot of disruptions of our flights, and after working on this for a month operationally, it is simply too hot and the length between Imperial and Vegas is too long, and we are now in a situation where we’re compromising the excellent reliability that’s taken us years to establish there in Imperial. ”
Cestari clarified that the request was for the County to move the Essential Air Services (EAS) hub from Las Vegas to Phoenix.
“We are happy with the interest in Vegas,” said Cestari, “and it will be our intention to continue to provide some level of service to Las Vegas from Imperial, and we would not require any government assistance either from the feds or from Imperial County to do this, we would do this on our own… we could leave early in the morning when it’s cool, we could come back early in the afternoon when it’s cool. ”
Cestari clarified that there would still be service to Las Vegas, but that it would take a backseat to other trips. “In no way are we trying to deny you guys access to Vegas, but our first priority is to give Imperial folks access to hubs. and to the national air transportation system, ”said Cestari.
Cestari requested that the Board write a letter to the Department of Transportation requesting and approving the hub change.
Third District Supervisor Michael Kelley pointed out that this would create a great deal of disappointment among constituents. “I’ll you one thing, there’s going to be a lot of disappointed people, because when I was so pushing for the Las Vegas trip, there was a lot of people happy about that, there still are a lot of people happy about that. That’s going to be disappointing for a lot of people, ”said Kelley.
Cestari replied that the intent was to keep the Las Vegas route. “We think it’s a viable route, and from a commercial perspective there’s a lot of demand for it. We just don’t want to operate it and jeopardize the other connections, because once that starts happening, we go into a downward spiral where people say the service is not reliable and whatnot, ”said Cestari.
Supervisor questioned if this would result in an increase in rate fees for travelers from Imperial to Las Vegas. Cestari said that this would not be the case. “The biggest thing driving fares right now is fuel costs,” said Cestari.
Supervisor Kelley made a motion to approve the writing of the letter with reluctance. The motion was seconded. Chairman Jesus Escobar had a few questions for Cestari before bringing the motion to a vote.
Escobar pointed out that the conditions traveling to Phoenix are very similar to those traveling to Las Vegas and questioned why the change was necessary. Cestari again mentioned that the heat and elevation were the primary concern and compared the two routes to “apples and oranges” in Terms of their differences. Supervisor Kelley chimed in, asking why they couldn’t increase the elevation to Las Vegas. Cestari stated that it was “simply not possible” due to the constraints of the aircraft and the heat.
“The other issue I have is pretty significant,” said Escobar. “I have a lot of friends in Mexicali, and they love Vegas.” Escobar pointed out that the drive to Vegas can be tedious. Escobar also pointed out that none of the people he spoke with knew about the concerns or the change that would be taking place, placing the blame on Southern Airways Express’s lack of advertising and marketing of the change.
Escobar also pointed to the growing demand for Las Vegas flights, due to the upcoming football season and due to a large population in Mexicali. “I think there’s a lot of continuity that is lacking that is really going to be taking away from us here locally , and from us to really push our airport in a much more significant manner by taking this route that was heavily anticipated and publicized just a few short months ago, ”said Escobar.“ You are a private entity, you are a for-profit entity , I highly respect that, but I can’t support it, bottom line, and I apologize for it but it’s something that we’re bucking the trend roughly two months in, in something that, with all due respect, you should have done your homework on and known these issues ahead of schedule, so again, I can’t support it. ”
The motion carried on a 3-1 vote.