Great Lakes chosen as Merced's new airline

MERCED -- Great Lakes Airlines will be Merced's next passenger air carrier, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced Friday.

Great Lakes, which partners with United Airlines and Frontier Air, beat out two other carriers to win the $1.8 million government subsidy that funds Merced's passenger air service.

Flights are expected to start in mid-November, when Great Lakes will take over from departing Mesa Airlines.

Great Lakes is expected to fly three nonstop flights daily to Las Vegas' McCarran International Airport. Some flights returning from Las Vegas will include a stop in Visalia. In its subsidy proposal, Great Lakes projected that one-way tickets would cost $117.

The DOT's decision to award the subsidy to Great Lakes goes against the Merced City Council's first choice. The council voted last month to support Vision Air's subsidy bid, saying the airline's larger plane, onboard restroom and flight attendant swayed its decision.

But airport manager Lloyd Partin said Great Lakes is likely a good fit for Merced.

"Great Lakes has a good track record in the communities that they've served," Partin said. "They've managed to get several of the communities that they've served off of the subsidy altogether."

In other words, Great Lakes has been able to sell enough tickets to operate without government funding.

"It gives us a lot of hope that we can transition into very reliable service with a very well-known carrier that will make a commitment to the community long-term," Partin said.

City staff recommended Great Lakes' proposal in part because its flight schedule would move Merced closer to boarding 10,000 passengers in a single year.

When Merced hits that milestone, it will be eligible for $1 million in government funding for improvements at Merced Municipal Airport.