SLO County airport officials woo airlines at conference

Travelers enter the terminal at the San Luis Obispo County Regional Airport.
Travelers enter the terminal at the San Luis Obispo County Regional Airport.

Airline planners from across the country are in town for a networking conference this week, and local airport leaders are hoping it will bring spark additional interest in and service to the region.

The sold-out Sixel Airports Conference, which is run by airport consulting services firm Sixel Consulting Group, brought together analysts and managers from 36 airports and 15 airlines Tuesday through Thursday for group presentations and one-on-one meetings between airport representatives and the airline planners who determine air service levels, according to Sixel’s website.

“We hope this event will tip the scales in our favor and help us secure more air service,” said SLO County airports director Kevin Bumen. “We want to show airlines firsthand what San Luis Obispo County has to offer and why it’s such a desired tourist destination.”

The San Luis Obispo County Regional Airport recently lost 8 percent of its available seats when SkyWest, which operates as United Express, switched from turboprop commuter airplanes on April 7. That change meant the airport lost six flights a day to and from Los Angeles and San Francisco.

The only other destination that San Luis Obispo flies to now is Phoenix, with US Airways.

Goals for additional connecting service include Denver, Seattle and Sacramento.

“Denver is still a key dot on the map for us,” Bumen said, because it is a hub with connections to far-flung destinations.

It is a common misconception that airports determine where passengers can fly. On the contrary, Bumen said, airports must work to attract and keep airline service, which is why the Sixel conference is so important.

Conference guests and their families are spending their nights beachside at Avila Lighthouse Suites but will have an opportunity to experience activities, food, wine and beer from the region, as well as a visit to the San Luis Obispo farmers market, according to Sixel’s website.

To attract airlines, the airport also has a variety of tools, including a $500,000 Department of Transportation small community air service grant that can be used as a revenue guarantee for an airline, or a promise that if an airline serves the airport for a given amount of time, it will remain profitable.

“Although air service development for smaller communities continues to be very competitive, we’re leaving no stone unturned in our efforts to secure more air service for SLO County Regional Airport,” Bumen said.

San Luis Obispo County Regional Airport was chosen to host the conference through a competitive bidding process.

“Given the very competitive environment small airports typically face, this is an extraordinary opportunity to build meaningful relationships with airlines that would be interested in expanding their air service out to this region,” said Philip D’Acri, airport business development manager.

The conference is also being supported with efforts by the Avila Beach Tourism Alliance, City of San Luis Obispo, ACI/San Luis Jet Center, Fly This Sim, SLO Wine Country, Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance and Visit San Luis Obispo County, according to the news release.

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