The search for a private operator to run Chico’s airport turned up just a single proposal as the application period closed Friday. Officials say they remain high focused on returning passenger service. North State Public Radio’s Marc Albert filed this report.
Loss of service to small airports within driving distance of a larger facility isn’t unique to Chico. It’s been an issue since airline de-regulation in 1978, according to a report from the Government Accountability Office. It's also grown more common over the last 15 years as fuel prices rose more steeply and even more so since the 2008 economic crisis sapped passenger demand. The GAO said that between 2007 and 2013, the number of flights serving the nation’s smallest airports declined by nearly one fifth, while 23 airports lost service altogether.
Restoring passenger service isn’t an easy thing today. In most sectors of the economy entrepreneurs and companies seek out opportunities and weigh the financial risks themselves. That’s less the case for airlines, especially in smaller markets. Chico City Manager Mark Orme:
Orme: “What they’re looking for is some numbers to determine whether or not they’re going to have some profitability”
Orme said airlines, which have dwindled in number due to bankruptcies and mergers, increasingly want localities to conduct and provide detailed market research studies before they’ll consider adding a destination. He said two city committees are active at work.
Orme: “One of those committees is looking specifically at what type of data needs to be researched in order to have a viable document to hand over to these commercial air carriers to see if we’re a good fit for them.”
Carriers would then move to verify such research once the homework is done, typically by a public agency. Orme said airlines are most keenly interested in potential business passengers, who presumably fly more often, and unlike leisure travelers don’t tend to restrict their travel to a few peak holidays a year.
Some local business leaders have expressed concerns that the loss of air service will make the immediate region less attractive to prospective employers considering moving to the region. The local chamber of commerce has conducted a survey in an effort to prove that Chico is a potentially profitable market.
For North State Public Radio News, I'm Marc Albert in Chico.