Visalia recently lost scheduled air service after SeaPort Airlines abruptly discontinued service from Visalia to Burbank and Sacramento in mid-January. They mysteriously closed up all their operations in the state and filed for bankruptcy protection.
Wasting little time, the Department of Transportation (DOT) called for a new bidding round Jan. 20 under the Essential Air Service (ESA) subsidy available to Visalia.
Now, three airlines have filed notice with the DOT that they would like to take over the contract to offer regular flights to other California cities from Visalia. The city has been asked to respond to the bids by Feb. 25.
The three airlines are Great Lakes who lost out to SeaPort after several years of rocky service in Visalia, Boutique Air of San Francisco and Hawaii-based Mokulele Airlines.
Mokulele may be the least expensive, asking for a $2.1 million subsidy. They would fly 24 weekly round-trip flights to LAX. All three would duplicate that schedule. Great Lakes asks for $2.6 million and Boutique Air says they want $3.5 million to provide regular service to both LAX and Oakland or Sacramento.
Visalia council members could choose to take an alternate offer – $3 million from the DOT – for airport improvements and give up on the ESA after years of trying to make it work. That would leave the city to boost efforts for private commercial use and freight air service.
Passengers would be encouraged to fly in and out of Fresno.