SLO airport looks to boost its business

Battered by more than two years of declining ridership and sputtering in its attempts to recover from the ailing economy, the San Luis Obispo County Regional Airport may hire a $31,000 consultant in hopes of bringing airline service back to the county.

Sixel Air Consulting Group of Eugene, Ore., is “a successful air service development firm,” according to county General Services Director Janette Pell. Sixel has provided passenger figures and other services for the local airport since 2002, Pell wrote in a staff report to the Board of Supervisors.

A committee chose Sixel over Tri-Star Marketing of Irvine after reviewing their respective proposals.

Pell is asking the board to approve the contract, which could cost between $20,000 and $31,000.

Should Sixel successfully recruit air service, it would receive a one-time payment of $40,000 per route above the initial expenditure.

In her report, Pell explained that since 2008, the airport has lost two airlines and seen a 40 percent reduction in available passenger seats.

That in turn has led to an imbalance in airport revenue, with the airport projected to spend more than it takes in for the fiscal year 2010-11, which begins July 1.

Last year, the county scaled back its airport terminal project and eliminated a proposed parking garage.

Pell noted that local airport managers have had some victories in their own recruiting efforts, including persuading US Airways to upgrade two flights from 50 to 86 seats and add a seasonal jet to Phoenix. In addition, United added a flight to Los Angeles in January.

“Despite these positive events, the cost of flying from San Luis Obispo has risen, and the convenience of travel from the airport has been severely diminished,” she wrote.

“Research has found (that) communities successful in recruiting additional air service ... employed professional air service consultants,” Pell wrote.

The Board of Supervisors has placed Pell’s request on their Tuesday consent agenda, which is where they put items they plan to vote on but not discuss.

Reach Bob Cuddy at 781-7909.