Modesto has ended its campaign to restart passenger air service with Southern California on a high note, collecting more than $1.5 million in pledges for the flights.
The pledges are for the purchase of tickets. They are not binding but demonstrate the region’s commitment to the service and reassure the airline that it would not lose money during the flights’ initial years.
Modesto had to collect at least $1 million in pledges during the 10-week campaign, which ended Monday.
Modesto is working with Sixel Consulting Group on securing the flights. Owner Mark Sixel has said he has an “oral understanding” with a major carrier that it would start the flights between the Modesto and Los Angeles International airports if $1 million in pledges were collected.
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“I’m very proud of our community, city staff and the Sixel Consulting Group for making this happen,” Mayor Garrad Marsh said in a news release issued Wednesday. Modesto and its consultant are working with the Chamber of Commerce and the Stanislaus Economic Development and Workforce Alliance on the campaign.
Sixel’s marketing and public relations manager, Katie Jones, said in an email that Sixel has shared the pledge drive results with the carrier, but the carrier will remain anonymous while an environmental assessment is being conducted at Modesto Airport. The Federal Aviation Administration is requiring the assessment before the flights can start.
“The airline has been impressed with the community support,” Jones wrote, “and is still very much interested in developing the service. It’s simply decided to wait until all the ducks are in a row before making a big announcement. Since the (environmental assessment) is not done yet, we don’t have a definitive start date, but we’ll keep the community updated as the process continues.”
The news release says the campaign was broad-based, with nearly 40 businesses and people pledging $10,000 or more. The campaign received more than 175 pledges. The campaign was scheduled to run Jan. 13 through Feb. 28 but was extended to March 31 after it got off to a slow start.
The campaign was helped with sizable pledges from two Modesto travel agencies that specialize in travel to India, Fiji, Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific. La Tour Travel pledged $280,000, and SP Travel pledged $200,000.
Modesto-based Inter Planet Travel and Luna & Associates also pledged $200,000. The travel agency specializes in flights to Mexico.
SkyWest Airlines provides the only regularly scheduled commercial flights at Modesto Airport – three daily flights to San Francisco. Those flights often are delayed at San Francisco International Airport, causing Modesto travelers to miss connecting flights. City officials say Southern California is the No. 1 destination for passengers flying from Modesto.
SkyWest offered Los Angeles flights from 2006 to 2008. Before that, the last Los Angeles flights were in 1992.
Sixel Consulting officials have said the proposed Los Angeles flights would be twice daily in 50-seat jets. Modesto officials believe the flights would be a boon for the region and would help attract businesses. They also believe the flights would attract local travelers who now fly out of the Bay Area, Sacramento and Fresno.
Sixel has an incentive-based contract with Modesto, so it gets paid only if it lands the flights. But once the flights start, Sixel receives $2 for two years for every passenger who gets on a jet bound for Los Angeles or lands in a jet that departed from Los Angeles.