SANTA MARIA, Calif. - A new airline could soon be flying to Santa Maria, helping to fill the void that will be created once United Airlines ends service to the city's airport on Oct. 6.
"We're actively looking to fill that service to a hub airport, and so we have travel approved to go to Dallas to meet with American," said Santa Maria Public Airport General Manager Chris Hastert.
Next month, Hastert will lead a four-person team, which will include two airport officials and two community members. The group will speak with American Airlines representatives with the hope of convincing the carrier to establish service in the city.
"We really thought we should involved the community," said Hastert. "It's one thing for the airport manager to go and meet with an airline and talk about the community, it's another to bring people from the community that can help them understand what the community is that we're trying to get them to serve."
Among those in the group traveling to Dallas will be Glenn Morris, the CEO and President of the Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce
"What we're hoping to share with them is some of the background on the community, some data on the business market and some of our tourism program, so they could kind of get a feel of the full scope of what they could potentially do here," said Morris.
Morris adds it's vital for the city to have airline service to major airports.
"Having a major airline flying here to a hub is very important to our business members," said Morris. "We hear from our members that they really appreciate that kind of service, and the ability to get to and from other markets."
Hastert also mentioned the airport has recently reached out to other airlines, such as Alaska, Delta and Skywest.
"We're looking into all the major hubs," said Hastert. "So it could be a Los Angeles, it could be a Phoenix, it could be a Salt Lake City."
The move to search for a major carrier was necessitated when United announced it would stop its daily service to San Francisco and pull out of the airport all together.
The departure will leave the airport with only one commercial passenger service carrier, Allegiant Air, which flies between Las Vegas and Santa Maria three times a week.
Hastert, though, is confident the search for a new major carrier to provide hub service will be successful.
"Santa Maria is a great airport for an airline to fly out of," said Hastert. "We have great facilities, both with the terminal, which was expanded in 2007-2008, and the runway, which was expanded in 2012, so we can meet the needs for any size aircraft that they have now and into the future."
Meantime, while airport officials work on securing a major carrier, a smaller airline at the same time has expressed interest in coming to Santa Maria.
"We had a presentation by Mokulele Airlines, they're based out of Hawaii looking to possibly expand into California," said Hastert. "It's very exciting to look at a new start-up airline in California. They're very successful in Hawaii right now and looking to grow."
In May, the airline began offering its first service outside of Hawaii, providing 24 non-stop flights per week from Imperial Valley/El Centro to Los Angeles International Airport.
Hastert says the airline is proposing service between Los Angeles and Santa Maria four to five times daily on nine-seat planes.
"They've already made that first expansion into California," said Hastert. "So this would be a logical expansion for them."
If all goes well, Hastert noted a deal with Mokulele could be announced in the near future.
"We're currently in negotiations with them for terminal space, for an airline support program, so obviously when a new airline goes into a market, there are some risks with costs associated, so airports routinely work with an airline as a support program to mitigate some of that risk," said Hastert.
Even if a deal with Mokulele is finalized, the airport would continue to search for a larger carrier.
"We would look to replace United hub service with similar hub service, but I think Mokulele would help compliment that and maybe have an agreement with a major carrier, which would give you an option, if you were flying through say Salt Lake City or Phoenix or some where like that, you could re-route through Los Angeles. It just gives you more options," said Hastert.
Hastert adds an optimistic timetable to bring in a major airline will likely be at least six months.