SANTA MARIA, Calif. - As millions of Americans take to the sky, traveling over the long holiday weekend, Santa Maria Public Airport (SMX) is a little quieter than usual.
"Mokulele Airlines ended their service on November 30th unfortunately from Santa Maria," said Santa Maria Public Airport general manager Chris Hastert. "The passenger traffic just wasn't showing that it was going to become successful in the near future."
The Hawaii-based airline first arrived in Santa Maria in October 2016, with daily flights offered to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX).
Two months ago, Mokulele switched flights to the Hollywood Burbank Airport. The move did not work out as hoped.
"It did make things a little bit worse because a lot of people weren't familiar with Burbank," Hastert said.
Hastert added the small airline, which operates with a nine-seat Cessna Grand Caravan plane, presented a number of challenges for customers that proved too much to overcome.
"Mokulele was a little bit different from our standard airlines that our passengers were used to with hub service," said Hastert. "Most of our passengers are connecting passengers and they don't have all the agreements in place with the other airlines, so transferring bags was difficult and booking tickets through to a different destination was difficult."
Santa Maria Public Airport provided Mokulele with a number of financial incentives totalling just under $1 million to keep service airborne.
"We had a year long agreement with Mokulele for some revenue guarantees and subsidies and fee wavers and things like that expired in October," Hastert said. "We made a big effort. Mokulele made a big effort. They were a great airline while they were here. They operated the flights on-time and were reasonable. The issues really come down to the agreements with other airlines and it's difficult for a small airline to grow without those agreements."
The departure now leaves the airport without daily service. It's a blow for local passengers who enjoy using the facility.
"I think it's sad because this is a perfect place for us to fly out from," said Daniel Becker of Lompoc. "We don't have to make the long drive to Los Angeles to get to the rest of the world."
Now, Hastert and other airport officials will continue their ongoing efforts to attract another airline to Santa Maria. Next month, Hastert will travel to St. George, Utah for a meeting with Skywest Airlines.
"It's just a standard meeting with Skywest," said Hastert. "There's nothing major that we're proposing to them, but Skywest is a partner with many of the major airlines as their regional carrier, so it's good to stay in touch with Skywest because they're most likely going to be the ones flying the flights if we do re-establish hub service here."
Hastert adds the airport hopes to add service to any number of hubs, including potential targets Los Angeles, San Francisco, Denver, Phoenix or Salt Lake City.
"For hub service, what we're looking at is any of the major hubs," Hastert said. "We have a grant in place for eastbound service. We'll work with any of the major carriers to one of the major hubs. Our passengers are really committed to getting across the country, so we would love to support the customers in the Santa Maria Valley with better service."
If they are successful in bringing in a new carrier, the airline will service an airport many on the Central Coast say they'll support.
"The facility is very user friendly," said Wendy Weiss of San Luis Obispo. "It's a short walk from the parking structure, the people are friendly. Where you wait hang out before your flight is very clean and the people are really nice."
As 2017 departs, Hastert is confident the new service will arrive in the future.
"We are making huge efforts to re-establish hub service," said Hastert. "We are hopeful that we'll be successful in 2018."