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To grow air service, Mono County subsidies may have to continue

February 10, 2012

 

Mono County hopes it won’t have to continue to subsidize summer air service that allows Mammoth to have year-round air service.
 
But it might have to for some time if it wants the service to continue and expand to more places.
 
It’s a game of “you have to give more to get more,” Mammoth Mountain Ski Area’s air service consultant Kent Myers told the county supervisors Tuesday.
 
“Say you get your air service two flights a day to two or three cities, things are going great and the airline is making a profit after a few years,” said Myers, of the Vail, Colo.-based consulting group Airplanners. “The county thinks that’s great and wants to stop? They can. The problem is that this doesn’t grow anything. You will continue to bring in those flights at a profit, but this is not going to expand the service past that.”
 
If the county wants airport services to expand, he said, it will have to continue to subsidize.
 
He said Mammoth Yosemite Airport could support more flights per day than it does currently—up to about 12. He said the airport is also uniquely placed to do that with far less effort and risk than many other resort airports.
 
“You are the best–placed resort in the western half of the country when it comes to access to a large population base,” he said. “California has 38 million people within a few hours of you. No other resort—none in Colorado—can do that.”
 
Mammoth and Mono County has a lot more going for it that is often overlooked, too, he said.
 
 For one, the county has a large base of second homeowners with an intense loyalty to the area.
 
“People just love it here,” he said.
 
Second, the area has an ideal demographic of visitors—they tend to be relatively wealthy with disposable incomes.
 
Third, the airport serves an area with a four-season climate within 30 miles. In January, visitors can play golf in Bishop and ski in Mammoth. In July, visitors can play golf, hike, camp and bike in Mammoth when Bishop is too hot.
 
Fourth, the current service has reached a certain critical mass—an average of at least two flights a day in at least a few key markets.
 
But, according to Myers, what Mammoth and Mono County don’t have is a culture of supporting air service. That leaves the burden of air service subsidies to the Town of Mammoth Lakes, Mono County governments and Mammoth Mountain.
 
“Take for example Jackson Hole, Wyo.,” he said. “Almost every business in the town kicks in something to help subsidize year-round air service. In return, they get some perks, like reduced lift tickets. But the big thing is the social pressure. It’s sort of like if you don’t contribute, your kid doesn’t play on the hockey team. You just don’t have the social standing to be a player in the town. It might be $500 from the Pearl Street Bagel place or it might be $500,000 from the big developers or businesses. But everyone contributes something.”
 
“We are off to a good start,” said Supervisor Vikki Bauer. “Two years ago, we were not even thinking of supporting year-round service. I think we could work toward something that would spread the burden out.”

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