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SkyWest to reduce SLO airport service starting April 7

File photo of a United Express plane, operated by SkyWest, at San Luis Obispo County Regional Airport. The turboprop planes will be replaced by jets next month.
File photo of a United Express plane, operated by SkyWest, at San Luis Obispo County Regional Airport. The turboprop planes will be replaced by jets next month. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

San Luis Obispo County Regional Airport will lose six flights a day to and from Los Angeles and San Francisco — an 8 percent reduction in available seats — once SkyWest switches to jets from turboprop commuter airplanes April 7.

The cuts may inconvenience travelers by reducing their options in San Luis Obispo and increasing layover times for connecting flights at LAX or San Francisco. But some travelers also said Thursday they welcome the idea of flying in a quieter, roomier plane.

Maureen Murphy, an Arcata resident, took a jet to San Francisco and then a prop plane into San Luis Obispo on Thursday to visit her daughter, Amelia Murphy, who lives in Paso Robles.

“I like how fast the jet was and I like the idea of more comfort too,” Murphy said. “My only thought is that with few flights there might be more layover time for me. I wouldn’t like that.”

Mike Manchak, president of the county’s Economic Vitality Corporation, said he believes the change to jets will increase travel to San Luis Obispo and enhance local business because many people have long clamored for the more comfortable jets.

“The jets are quiet, comfortable, faster and that’s all good for tourism, the economy and local business,” Manchak said. “Everyone’s saying hurrah about this. I haven’t heard one negative comment.”

SkyWest, which operates as United Express in San Luis Obispo, announced in November that it is retiring its entire fleet of 28-passenger Brasilia Embraer 120 turboprop commuter airplanes in favor of 50-passenger Canadair Regional Jets (CRJ200). Airports across the region have been preparing for the change.

Starting April 7 the six daily flights from San Luis Obispo to LAX will be cut to three flights and the five flights to San Francisco will drop to two flights daily. All departure and arrival times will change.

Whether more flights will be added later depends on demand, said SkyWest spokesman Wes Horrocks.

“We are going to be watching the market really closely. We are hoping to be able to add more flights soon,” he said.

Kevin Bumen, director of airports for San Luis Obispo County, said, “it’s the end of an era for this community.”

The Brasilia Embraer 120 turboprop debuted in 1986, and its design has not changed since.

Although Bumen said he will miss the charm of the turboprop airplanes, the jets will offer more room, quiet, overhead storage, mechanical and scheduling reliability, and potentially speedier flights.

Bumen also said it remained to be seen whether flights will be added.

“If we offered twice as many seats immediately, we couldn’t fill them,” he said. “It’s a process.”

Travelers off the United Express plane that arrived Thursday evening from San Francisco weighed the pros and cons of fewer flight choices versus the comfort of a jet. Monica Daniels, who lives in the East Bay, said she comes down regularly for work recruiting students for jobs at Cal Poly, and just missed her flight back home Thursday evening.

“It would be nice in situations like this to be able to get another flight,” Daniels said. “I’d like to at least have an early morning option and a late night flight to be able to travel back in the same day.”

Al Knapp and his wife Carol Knapp said they fly in about once a year to San Luis Obispo from Chicago, with a changeover in San Francisco.

“I like the idea of more leg room, more quiet, comfortable, maybe a glass of wine,” Carol Knapp said. Al Knapp said he would like to see flights to more cities out of San Luis Obispo. Manchak said the EVC has worked with the airport to get flights to Seattle and Denver. A past EVC survey showed some people opt not to use the San Luis Obispo airport because they don’t like the planes. The survey addressed issues of price, frequency of flight travel and destinations at the San Luis Obispo airport.

“Some people don’t want to fly out of here because of the props,” Manchak said. “They’d rather get in their car and fly elsewhere. The more people who fly out of here helps out the airport and economy.”

Ermina Karim, president of the San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce, said she believes “the flight experience” will be better for travelers. She added the chamber has supported broadening air service, and trying to offer as many flight options as possible.

“I think it will be a more comfortable, more modern plane,” Karim said. “. …We’re fortunate to have a very well utilized airport. We’re actively supporting greater accessibility for visitors and residents.”

With the announcement, San Luis Obispo’s airport remains on track to expand its terminal. Bumen said the jets increase the need for a larger terminal because they carry more passengers per trip so more people will gather in the terminal at one time. Also, the new terminal will better accommodate parking for the larger planes.

Bumen said the project is out to bid now, with an expected groundbreaking in the fall. The terminal is expected to be completed in early 2017, although that could vary between a year and two years from the start date depending on financing.

Jets have already been flying out of San Luis Obispo for several years, because US Airways offers jet service to Phoenix three times per day, adding a fourth flight in the summer. No change in the flight schedule to and from Phoenix is expected, Bumen said.

CHANGES IN UNITED EXPRESS SCHEDULE*

New Departure Times to LAX

10:36 a.m.; 2:25 p.m.; 5:30 p.m.

New Arrival Times from LAX

2:12 p.m.; 5 p.m.; 8:10 p.m.

New Departure Times to SFO

6:20 a.m.; 2:42 p.m.

New Arrival Times from SFO

10:06 a.m.; 1:51 p.m.

*Starting April 7. Times are subject to change.

EXISTING SCHEDULE

Departures to LAX

7:45 a.m.; 8:30 a.m.; 11:44 a.m.; 2:55 p.m; 6:25 p.m.; 9:12 p.m.

Arrivals from LAX

10:35 a.m.; 2:30 p.m.; 6 p.m.; 7:47 p.m.; 9:37 p.m.; 11:59 p.m.

Depatures to SFO

10:25 a.m.; 2:22 p.m.; 5:52 p.m.; 8:38 p.m.

Arrivals from SFO

8:21 a.m.; 9:57 a.m.; 1:57 p.m.; 5:27 p.m.; 8:13 p.m.

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