Merced airport ends flights to Vegas

Airline loses federal contract, subsidies

rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.comFebruary 26, 2013 

— The Merced Regional Airport will no longer offer service to Las Vegas through Great Lakes Airlines after March 31, according to Airport Manager Ron Elliott.

The service is being eliminated after Great Lakes Airlines lost its essential air service contract in Ely, Nev., an annual loss of $2 million in subsidies, Elliott said.

The Department of Transportation made the decision to cut that contract, but the loss in revenue is what caused the airline to discontinue its Merced service to Las Vegas.

Elliott said Great Lakes Airlines has been a wonderful service provider to Merced and will continue offering service to Los Angeles International Airport.

"The airline was already giving us two flights a day to LAX, so it made financial sense for them to drop Vegas, and that's why we lost the service," Elliott said. "They pay a lot of money to be able to operate in Las Vegas and they couldn't afford to stay any longer."

Essential air service is a program that started in the late '70s to provide rural communities commercial flights to medium-sized and larger airports at least twice a day.

To qualify the communities must be located more than 70 miles from a medium to large hub airport, Elliott said.

Merced isn't the only airport to lose its Las Vegas service, according to Elliott. Great Lakes Airlines will also stop offering flights to Las Vegas from Visalia Municipal Airport for the same reason.

Great Lakes Airlines is contacting travelers who reserved Las Vegas flights after March 31 to notify them of the change and to make alternative accommodations, but it's been a challenge.

Elliott said some travelers reserved tickets online and their phone numbers aren't in service.

Those with flight reservations to Las Vegas should contact the airline directly, he said. Some are being transferred to LAX flights, where they can catch another connection to Las Vegas.

Elliott said it's unclear if the service to Las Vegas will return to Merced.

"We always hope that we'll get it back, but the safe thing to say right now is we really don't know," he said.

Travelers affected by the changes should contact Great Lakes Airlines by calling (800) 554-5111 to make alternative arrangements.

Reporter Ramona Giwargis can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.com.

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