July 21, 2024
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Dubroff: Contour Airlines taking off on the Central Coast


Henry Dubroff

Henry Dubroff

Smyrna, Tenn. is not exactly the airline capital of the world.

But a privately-held aviation company based in this small city is beginning to move up the ranks of carriers serving the Central Coast. With flights daily from Santa Barbara and, this fall, San Luis Obispo, it is nipping at the heels of major carriers in the region.

Contour Airlines is an affiliate of Corporate Flight Management, which has been operating as an aviation services company since 1982. Mostly, it has operated as a charter service and freight carrier.

But since 2016, Contour has built up a fleet of 11, 30-seat Embraer ERJ-135 jets, and it has a route network that connects small markets like Macon, Ga. to larger ones such as Baltimore’s BWI International Airport.

On the Central Coast, Contour entered the market with service from Santa Barbara to Oakland and Las Vegas. In late June, it announced service from San Luis Obispo to Las Vegas beginning in October.

Contour’s flights aren’t daily and its services are basic, but the flights are relatively cheap. For its Santa Barbara flights, Contour seems to be leveraging the same plane to fly back and forth to Oakland with a mid-day trip over to Las Vegas to utilize capacity.

Some back-of-the envelope calculations suggest that flying 30 passengers at a time at relatively low fares means filling virtually every seat to cover the cost of fuel, staff and maintenance.

But the planners at Contour seem to be making things work flying from Macon to BWI and from Tupelo, Miss. to Nashville.

Two things are worth noting about Contour.

First, they have found a couple of niche opportunities in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo and, beginning in October, will operate as many flights a day as some of the major carriers.

Second, if you can get to Las Vegas on the cheap, connections to other cities may be available — if your flight is on time and if you have no bags to check.


Speaking of travel, a recent report on corporate relocations from the Economic Development Collaborative of Ventura County got me thinking.

The report suggested that companies in Ventura and San Luis Obispo counties are not as likely to pull up stakes and move to lower tax states as headlines would suggest.

Santa Barbara County does lose businesses to out-of-state relocation but not in huge numbers.

This does pose a bit of a dilemma because we can’t grow businesses without adding employees, and population growth across the region has been negligible for years.

A partial explanation is that while companies are not leaving the area, employees are simply not moving to the Central Coast to work. Instead, they work remotely, sofa surf or utilize short-term rentals and patch together a work life that involves, in essence, being in two places. Especially for tech firms, this makes the idea of “trying out” the Central Coast possible, particularly for skilled workers who are waiting for the next really big promotion — or stock option grant — before they take the plunge on housing.

The high cost of housing also makes the “trailing spouse” work situation even more difficult. The Central Coast is a great place to locate a business or even to work — especially if you don’t actually have to live here.

• Contact Editor Henry Dubroff at hdubroff@pacbiztimes.com.