Volaris takes wing in Fresno


April 15--Fresno Yosemite International Airport gained its second international route in a month Thursday evening with the inauguration of a Volaris Airlines connection with Guadalajara.

Flight 950 touched down precisely at 7 p.m. As it taxied to the terminal, the airport's fire crew shot off a water-cannon salute. At the arrival gate, a mariachi band greeted passengers.

Volaris' debut in Fresno comes 10 days after Aeromexico arrived, with its own connection to Guadalajara.

The two airlines filled the void after Mexicana Airlines filed for bankruptcy protection and ended its flights in August, leaving the Fresno airport with no international service.

"I didn't lose faith," said Russell Widmar, the city's aviation director, "and now we've got two great airlines" using the airport's customs facilities.

The inaugural Volaris flight to Fresno marked the first time that Fresno Yosemite International had two commercial international arrivals on the same day, Widmar said. An Aeromexico flight was scheduled to arrive at 11 p.m.

The process of bringing Volaris to Fresno was unorthodox. None of the airline's executives had ever been to Fresno Yosemite, so Widmar and the airport's team assembled a coffee table book highlighting the facilities.

It got their attention -- and has since been replicated for other attempts to bring airlines to Fresno.

The city offered financial incentives for the two Mexican airlines, including waiving landing and gate fees and terminal rents, as well as reimbursing each airline up to $150,000 a year to advertise and promote the routes for the first two years of operation.

Since Volaris began operations in 2006, it has established six destinations outside of Mexico, with Fresno as its most recent.

Rudy Estrada of Lemoore was among those happy to see the flight arrived. He had family aboard.

"After the flights to Mexico stopped, a lot of people were stranded in Fresno and had to drive to Los Angeles just to fly back to Mexico," Estrada said. "Now, it's a lot easier to get back home."

Volaris chief commercial officer Holger Blankenstein said that the flight connects two cities with rich culture.

"We are connecting the gateway to Yosemite National Park with the home of tequila," Blankenstein said.

Reyna Torres-Mendivil, head consul at the Mexican consulate in Fresno, said the flight will connect communities and also help build business ties.

The reporter can be reached at atavlian@fresnobee.com or (559) 441-6659.