Seymour seeks to restore commercial service at IYK
News Review Staff Writer
In a move to empower Inyokern Airport CEO Scott Seymour to facilitate restoration of commercial air service at IYK, the IWV Airport Board of Directors authorized him, at the Nov. 21 board meeting, to spend up to $20,000 with a consulting firm to find a new provider.
“To me, the good thing about our situation is that when we find a new airline, we know it will be one who wants to be here,” said Seymour. “The old airline didn’t. It was obvious because they priced themselves right out of the market.”
United Express terminated service out of Inyokern Airport in October. At that time, the cost of a seat from of IYK to LAX was $480 — up from $203 in 2005. In the third quarter of 2013, the average cost of a one-way domestic fare out of California was $181. A ticket out of Inyokern was $458, with the second most expensive costing only $264.
“The airline kept telling me that price was fair. It was not.”
Seymour said that rising cost to fly out of Inyokern drove down enplanements. When that number fell below 10,000 per year, the airport was knocked down one bracket on Federal Aviation Administra-tion entitlement money, falling from $1 million annually to $150,000 annually.
“We hired Sixel Consulting Group because they specialize in restoring service to small communities like ours,” he said. “If we get our enplanements back up to where we qualify for that extra $850,000 a year, this was a very small price to pay for that.”
Seymour acknowledged that other factors likely played a role in United’s decision to end service. Freezes on federal travel budgets — which significantly reduced travel in 2013 for employees of China Lake, the biggest single user at IYK — was probably the most significant.
“One of the other things really hurting the commuter-plane industry right now is a regulation change implemented by the FAA a few months ago,” he said. “It used to be that the first officer on a plane could be someone working toward the 1,500 hours you have to accrue for a commercial license. Now they both have to be licensed, which means you are paying two expensive salaries. That’s a lot harder to absorb on a 19-seat flight.”
Already, he said, the airline industry is operating on very narrow margins to keep costs down. “That is also the reason they forecast flights six to eight months in advance,” he said. “Which means however long it takes us to broker a deal with a new provider, you have to tack on that time.”
Seymour said that his best guess was that IYK would see a commercial service by this time next year. “The consultant will probably give a more conservative estimate, but that would be my guess.”
An update from the consultant will be published in a future edition of the News Review.Story First Published: 2013-11-27