Mesa Air to rebid for flight service: Group had said costs were too high to serve Visalia, Merced, Las Vegas loop.

Jul. 21--VISALIA -- Just two months ago, Mesa Air Group announced it wanted out of its subsidized federal contract to provide passenger air service from Visalia and Merced to Las Vegas, citing unexpectedly high fuel costs for its airplanes. Now...

Each flight would originate in Merced, stop in Visalia and then continue on to either North Las Vegas or Long Beach. All of the return flights would stop in Merced before Visalia.

But as a charter company, Vision must receive authorization from the Federal Aviation Administration before it can offer scheduled flights.

The third bidder, Wyoming-based Great Lakes Aviation, is a repeat suitor for Visalia's air service contract. Great Lakes was one of the two airlines that sought to replace SkyWest Airlines in 2005, ultimately losing to Scenic Air, and competed against Mesa Air and Big Sky Airlines of Montana when Scenic Air withdrew from Visalia and Merced last year.

Great Lakes has EAS contracts for nearly 30 other markets across the country, but none in California.

In Visalia, Great Lakes is proposing two nonstop round trips per day to Las Vegas and is asking for a subsidy of just over $1.1 million a year. For its two nonstop flights between Merced and Las Vegas, Great Lakes is seeking about $725,000 in subsidies.

For its Las Vegas flights, Mesa Air Group uses 19-passenger Beechcraft 1900D twin-turboprop airplanes, the same airplane that Great Lakes Aviation is proposing for both Visalia and Merced. The Beech 1900D can make the trip from Visalia to Las Vegas in about 1 1/2 hours.

But Vision Air proposes to use a larger, faster aircraft for its service -- the Dornier 328, a 30-passenger, twin-turboprop airplane that can make the trip from Visalia to Las Vegas in less than 50 minutes, and from Visalia to Long Beach in 42 minutes, according to its bid document.

Now it's up to federal officials to determine which of the three bids will win a new two-year EAS contract.

"We'll ask for comments from the cities and the residents in the communities," Transportation Department spokesman Mosley said. "We'll review the comments and each of the petitions and come to a decision as soon as possible."

A decision could take several weeks to perhaps a month or more, Mosley said. Mesa Air would be ordered to keep flying under the terms of its current contract until either a replacement is chosen or Mesa's new proposal is accepted.

The reporter can be reached at or (559) 622-2410.

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