San Luis Obispo County Regional Airport has received a $500,000 grant from the federal Transportation Department that the airport’s top administrator says could clear the way for new routes.
Airport General Manager Richard Howell said the grant, awarded to the county under the Small Community Air Service Development program, will allow the airport to waive certain fees and offer financial incentives for airlines that add or expand service.
“We’re going to be able to open the doors to some very, very meaningful discussions with target airlines” because of the grant, Howell said.
The region lost about 37 percent of its departing airline seats when a weak economy and high oil prices in 2008 prompted American Airlines and Delta Airlines to leave the market. US Airways also cut back services to its hub in Las Vegas.
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About 120,000 passengers boarded airliners leaving San Luis Obispo last year, Howell said, down from about 150,000 in 2008 and 187,000 in 2007.
San Luis Obispo County received one of 19 grants totaling $6.4 million awarded to smaller communities around the country.
In a recent survey, passengers said they wanted direct service from San Luis Obispo to Denver, Sacramento or Seattle, Howell said.
Howell said the airport has targeted American and Delta, along with Horizon Airlines, a sister carrier of Seattle-based Alaska Airlines. It is also looking to expanded service from United, whose regional partner SkyWest Airlines recently added a new flight to Los Angeles.
Howell said he hopes the new flights could begin this fall.
“This is huge,” said Mike Manchak, president and CEO of the Economic Vitality Corporation of San Luis Obispo County, “because it would be an incentive for more airlines to come to or re-enter our market. That in turn will give us more choices and also could lower the cost of tickets because it increases competition between the airlines.”
Staff writer Melanie Cleveland contributed to this report.