Airport Lands Federal Grant

Officials Eye Possible Santa Maria-To-Denver Service

A grant award to the Santa Maria Public Airport has local officials aiming for a Rocky Mountain high landing.

The airport was notified on Friday it had been awarded a Small Community Air Service Development Program Grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation.  Airport officials intend to use the money to focus on establishing an eastbound route to a hub in either Denver or Salt Lake City.

The airport was awarded $490,000 by the Department of Transportation, which will fund the majority of a $730,000 effort to land eastbound air service. General Manager Chris Hastert said the award is significant, given it was the airport’s third attempt at the grant.

“Each year we refined our grant application and this year the Economic Development Commission and Chamber of Commerce provided over 230 support letters from the community. We feel that may have pushed us over the top,” Hastert said.

Dave Cross, director of the Santa Maria Economic Development Commission, agreed with Hastert and said he had little trouble getting support for the airport.  “This is an opportunity for businesses that provide services to the military to have more direct access to the military,” Cross said, adding there is a natural link for contractors at Vandenberg Air Force Base and the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. “Every step they take to improve the airport is a step toward improving the community.”

The Santa Maria Public Airport was one of just two California airports to receive one of the 33 grants awarded by the Department of Transportation. Arcata/Eureka Airport, which serves Humboldt County was the other.  The Department of Transportation received 61 applications from airports in 33 states.

Hastert said airport representatives have been in touch with Denver-based Frontier Airlines and SkyWest Airlines, a regional carrier for United Airlines based in St. George, Utah. The next step for the airport is to use the grant money to put together an incentive package to lure one of those carriers to Santa Maria.

Mead and Hunt, the airport’s service development consultant, has already complied a study that shows service from Santa Maria to Denver would be profitable. That report, combined with an incentive package that includes $175,000 cash, and $65,000 in in-kind contributions including approximately $55,000 in fee waivers over the first year, will be presented to air carriers who could serve the Central Coast.

Hastert said the grant award is the latest good fortune to benefit the airport. The completion of the airport’s runway extension and the addition of Allegiant Air’s flights to Hawaii, which are scheduled to begin in November, have made 2012 a very good year.

“We show the route would be profitable. We’re hoping that information and the community support will interest them to begin service here,” Hastert said. “It’s very exciting. Just when you think everything is going great and can’t get any better there is another little prize out there.”

8/22/12   By Brian Bullock/Staff Writer/bbullock@santamariatimes.com

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