MERCED -- Great Lakes Airlines officials reaffirmed their plans to conduct passenger service out of Merced's airport and began a campaign to convince the public that they are a genuine fly-by-day outfit.
Airline CEO Charles Howell said Wednesday that planes bound for Ontario in San Bernardino County will begin taking off from Merced Municipal Airport at 6 a.m. Sept. 8. Nonrefundable round-trip tickets cost $89.
With the airline touting its service, the question on many local minds remained: How long will it last?
The company pledges it's not going anywhere.
Meanwhile, commercial service at Castle Airport remains up in the air. A Merced County spokesman said there's been no indication that Vision Airlines won't begin service, though no starting date has been offered.
Calls to Vision weren't returned.
While in Merced, Great Lakes officials stopped by a Rotary meeting in the morning and had plans to visit the Greater Merced Chamber of Commerce, both moves to build confidence and connect themselves to the community.
Merced has seen a number of airlines arrive with big plans -- only to disappear into the sunset. The past three months mark the first time the city's been without commercial air service since 1947.
Great Lakes Airlines is the nation's largest essential air service provider, which means it relies on federal grants to operate in smaller cities, such as Merced. It has terminals in 50 cities in 15 states and is trying to start service in Las Vegas as well.
Howell said that's what makes it a good fit for Merced. Its business model is designed to succeed in smaller areas. "We see opportunity in the passenger base," Howell said after a press conference at the airport. "We feel it's highly untapped."
The Federal Aviation Administration gave it a $4.8 million subsidy to serve Merced, Visalia and Ely, Nev. Mesa Air Group previously served Merced under the same kind of grant before going out of business in May.
Great Lakes was set to take over immediately, but held back because of high fuel prices.
An airline brings status and economic opportunities to the city and has been a top priority at City Hall.
Merced will spend $630,133 to operate its airport this fiscal year, plus another $1.4 million on upgrades at the facility.
The city's latest plan for the future of the airport calls for spending $24 million over the next decade on projects such as lengthening the runway to 6,450 feet.
Airport Superintendent Ron Elliott believes that Great Lakes will be serving Merced for some time. During a slump for most airlines, it's managed to grow.
"They're not looking to come in and make a fast buck," he explained. "They want to come in and be part of the community."