United Airlines will begin offering daily service from Santa Maria to Los Angeles, San Francisco and Denver this spring, giving Central Coast residents access to hundreds of domestic and international destinations, Santa Maria Public Airport manager Chris Hastert announced Friday.

The airport at this time offers only one regular route to Las Vegas through Allegiant Air.

The new routes, which begin June 4, were announced by airport officials and the Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce during a press conference at the airport.

United offered flights to San Francisco from Santa Maria but ended the service four years ago because of a lack of passengers.

The single route was difficult to sustain because it didn’t meet the needs of all business travelers, Hastert said.

“As we met with the United planners, one of the challenges was, ‘Which airport do you fly to?’ And the answer was actually all three,” he said. “They work really together so the connections work whether you’re coming back through Los Angeles, though Denver or through San Francisco."

Alberto Diaz, managing director for United’s Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) hub, said the flights would be operated through one of the airline’s regional partners — likely Skywest Airlines — under the United Express banner.

Diaz said the move is part of a domestic growth strategy that involves connecting smaller airports with United’s regional hubs.

“We’ve been constantly looking at cities and trying to expand our California presence,” he said. “Denver is one of our big growth areas. San Francisco is also. And LA, we’re trying to grow into small cities and feed the Denver and San Francisco hubs. It’s all part of that plan.”

The flights will utilize United Express CRJ-200 jets capable of seating 50 passengers.

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Hastert said the new service will include an incentive package and revenue guarantee for United Airlines.

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Chris Hastert, Santa Maria Public Airport manager, center, gives the thumbs up as he poses for pictures with officials from Santa Maria and United Airlines after they announced that the airline will offer three daily flights from Santa Maria Public Airport.

The details and full value of the incentive package are still being ironed-out, Hastert said, but part of it will involve a $490,000 grant from the Small Community Air Service Development Program, a U.S. Department of Transportation program designed to help small communities expand air service.

“There’s a lot of risks for an airline entering into a new market,” he said. “We try to abate some of that risk so we do fee-waivers and marketing support as well.”

Hastert said he's hopeful the United service will be successful, citing the ability of military personnel at Vandenberg Air Force Base to use the new routes. 

Servicemen at Vandenberg were often unable to fly on United’s previous Santa Maria flights because the airline did not have prices bid out with the General Services Administration for the Santa Maria airport. 

Airmen could still have flown out of Santa Maria if the pricing was competitive with the GSA rates, Hastert said, but the fares were usually too high. 

“We had issues with pricing here with the three airports,” he said. “Santa Maria was always more expensive than flights out of San Luis Obispo or Santa Barbara. This time we’ve been assured that the rates will be competitive.”

Razi Syed covers Santa Maria City Government for Lee Central Coast Newspapers.  Follow him on Twitter @razisyed


City Government

Razi Syed covers city government for the Santa Maria Times. He is a graduate of Fresno State University and New York University.

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