[EDITOR’S NOTE: This editorial was updated at 10:40 a.m. on Jan. 30. Scroll down for the correction.]
Supporters of San Luis Obispo County Regional Airport have begun a grass-roots effort to secure direct air service to Denver.
For the recently formed SLO County Air Transportation Alliance headed by business owner Mike Cannon, the quest relates directly to the Central Coast’s future as a business-to-business destination.
Thanks to business support and funding from SLO county, San Luis Obispo’s regional airport has mounted quite a comeback, reversing 90 percent of a cutback in flights that sharply curtailed service in 2008. These days, the airport boasts flights to both Los Angeles and San Francisco and Skywest Airlines, which operates United Express, has moved a crew base from Santa Barbara to SLO.
Which brings us to the Denver part of the equation. One of the biggest problems for the Central Coast is the fact that it’s hard to reach major cities in the Midwest and on the East Coast if you face a long flight via turboprop to LAX or San Francisco International Airport before you head to your destination.
A number of business leaders think the best way to address the problem is via non-stop service to Denver that puts the entire country just one stop away. Certainly that’s the case for Santa Barbara, which is spending $50 million on a new terminal and other improvements in an effort to lure new flights. It has seen growth in its nonstop business to Denver through competition between Frontier Airlines and United Airlines, although it lost service to Salt Lake City.
Meanwhile, Denver remains an attractive destination for a number of smaller California markets, notably Fresno, which is also served by SkyWest. Air service can be expensive and high-risk game. Burbank’s Bob Hope Airport, once a fast-growing alternative to LAX, has seen traffic drop precipitously as Southwest Airlines, a major player in Denver, trimmed flights. In late January, American Airlines dropped two flights a day to Burbank as part of its bankruptcy filing and, earlier in January, Southwest seemed to put expansion plans on hold.
In recent years the airports in both San Luis Obispo and Santa Maria have upgraded their airfields and terminal facilities. There’s plenty of room for growth in air service and with that growth will come more opportunities to both attract new employers and help existing companies grow.
[CORRECTION: A preview version of this story incorrectly stated that Fresno is served by Frontier Airlines. The story has been updated above to indicate that SkyWest serves Fresno.]