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LA flights returning to Modesto area for first time in a decade

LA flights returning to Modesto area for first time in a decade

Daily flights to and from Los Angeles are returning to the Modesto area for the first time in a decade, making air travel more convenient for business and leisure.
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Daily flights to and from Los Angeles are returning to the Modesto area for the first time in a decade, making air travel more convenient for business and leisure.

Daily flights to and from Los Angeles are returning to the Modesto area for the first time in a decade, making air travel more convenient to those who fly for business or pleasure.

United Airlines on Dec. 19 said it will offer twice-daily service between the Stockton Metropolitan and Los Angeles International airports starting Aug. 20. Flights can be booked now, starting at $179.

SkyWest Airlines — a regional carrier based in St. George, Utah — will operate the flights on behalf of United. SkyWest crews will fly jets called Bombardier CRJ200s, which seat 50 passengers.

“I think it’s a tremendous benefit, obviously for Stockton, but even for Modesto,” said Jeffrey Michael, director of the Center for Business and Policy Resarch for the University of the Pacific.

Michael said that while the flights should benefit leisure travelers who won’t have to drive the extra hour or more to Sacramento or the Bay Area to catch a flight, the new service should be a huge help for business travelers and in attracting more investment in the Northern San Joaquin Valley’s economy.

Southern California is a popular destination for local travelers. Micheal said United’s passengers can connect to flights to around the world from Los Angeles. He estimated there are at least 1 million people living within a 30-minute drive of Stockton’s airport. “I think the demand is there,” Micheal said.

Modesto spokesman Thomas Reeves said his city will work with the Stockton airport to promote the flights.

“We hope that this new air service combined with our current offerings continues to meet the air service needs of our communities,” said Russell Stark, Stockton’s airport director, in an email. “We also look forward to working with Modesto and all of the communities surrounding the airport in our continued efforts to provide more destinations to our traveling public.”

The Modesto Airport lost its commercial flights in June 2014 after SkyWest stopped its daily flights between Modesto and San Francisco, citing poor performance in the market. The flights were subject to delays and cancellations because of fog and other problems at San Francisco International Airport, causing passengers to miss connecting flights.

Modesto tried over a few years to land new commercial service. Those efforts now are dormant, but Reeves said the city has not given up.

The U.S. Department of Transportation awarded the Stockton Metropolitan Airport a $650,000 grant in June 2016 toward establishing the Los Angeles flights. The airport also has local matching funds, bringing the total amount to about $1 million.

The grant can be used as a revenue guarantee (in which an airport covers any losses an airline sustains as it launches a new service), for marketing and for other purposes in establishing the flights, according to the grant award.

SkyWest has a two-year contract with the Department of Transportation to provide the flights, according to SkyWest spokesman Layne Watson. He said that at the end of the two years, SkyWest will evaluate the service and decide whether to bid again for the flights. He said another regional airline also could bid.

It’s been a decade since local travelers could fly nonstop to Los Angeles. SkyWest provided daily flights between Modesto and Los Angeles from 2006 to 2008 after Modesto received a federal grant to provide a revenue guarantee. SkyWest cited high fuel prices and insufficient revenue for ending the flights.

Stockton last had Los Angeles flights around 2004, according to Harry Mavrogenes, who was Stockton’s airport director from 2012 until retiring in late 2017. Mavrogenes said a carrier briefly offered the flights before going out of business.

But Mavrogenes expects the new flights to take off. “I’m very pleased that Stockton has been recognized,” he said. “I have a good feeling that the service will do well because of the population base.”

The Stockton airport now has commercial passenger flights through Las Vegas-based Allegiant Air. The airline flies twice a week to Mesa, Ariz.; daily to Las Vegas, except Tuesdays; and twice a week to San Diego, though those flights have been on hiatus and will resume in March, according to an Allegiant spokeswoman.

Kevin Valine covers local government, homelessness and general assignment for The Modesto Bee. He is a graduate of San Jose State University and grew up in San Jose.
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