Scenic Airlines to Halt Passenger Service

The airline has been serving Merced for about six years and just received a $696,788 annual Essential Air Service subsidy. But it has lost $350,000 due to rising fuel prices.

This could ultimately lead to seamless travel connections between Merced and Las Vegas' McCarran International Airport, according to Partin. Scenic passengers now arrive at North Las Vegas Airport and are shuttled to McCarran.

Mark Slack, president and chief executive officer of Scenic Airlines, said the board of directors and management decided to gradually discontinue scheduled service operations so Scenic can invest in, grow and focus on its Grand Canyon tours.

"We are grateful for all the support our scheduled flights have received from passengers, employees, the communities we serve and the U.S. Department of Transportation over the past five years," Slack said.

Scenic Airlines was named the Merced County Chamber of Commerce's 2005 Business of the Year.

Scenic's announcement will not have any effect on improvements currently under way at the airport. A modular building has been added to the airport terminal to house Transportation Security Administration agents and their screening equipment.

The TSA has said it will continue plans to begin screening airline passengers by the end of the week.

Scenic Airlines started in the 1960s with flights to the Grand Canyon from Las Vegas. Scenic now is the largest operator of air tours to the Grand Canyon, carrying more than 155,000 passengers last year.

Slack, the Scenic president, said the airline started its scheduled service operation after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks as a source of revenue to replace the loss of international tourists coming to Las Vegas.

"The result was that we created a great side business to Merced, Visalia, Ely, Elko and Reno and discontinuing our scheduled service operation is especially difficult because of the close bonds we have formed with these cities," Slack said.

The process for the DOT to determine a new carrier is expected to take at least three months.

Any customer who purchased tickets for the new service from Merced to Reno will receive a full refund, he said.

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