A new airline flew from Visalia Monday, taking over passenger service that has had its share of turbulence in recent years.
SeaPort Airlines, based in Portland, Oregon, celebrated its first day of service to Sacramento and to Burbank with a ribbon-cutting at the Visalia Municipal Airport.
The commuter airline is offering 12 weekly round trips from Visalia to Sacramento International Airport — the only nonstop flights from the central San Joaquin Valley to the state capital, said airport manager Mario Cifuentez. SeaPort’s schedule has departures Monday through Friday from Visalia to Sacramento at 9:45 a.m. and 4:45 p.m., with return flights arriving at 1:05 p.m. and 7:50 p.m. Only one daily flight is offered on weekends.
SeaPort is also making 12 round trips each week between Visalia and Burbank’s Bob Hope Airport. Weekday nonstop departures are at 6:10 a.m. and 2 p.m., with arrivals at 9:15 a.m. and 4:25 p.m. As with the Sacramento service, only one daily flight is offered on the weekends, Cifuentez said.
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“We haven’t had four flights a day since 2001 when we had flights to LAX (Los Angeles International Airport),” he added.
SeaPort flies nine-seat, single-engine Cessna 208 Caravan turboprop airplanes that make the flight from Visalia to Sacramento in about 1 hour 20 minutes. The flight from Visalia to Burbank in about 1 hour 5 minutes, and the same airplane continues beyond Burbank to San Diego.
“This is a much smaller aircraft, and this is the new norm of air service at small airports,” Cifuentez said Monday. “The days of the 30-seat or the 19-seat turboprop at airports like ours are over — it’s just a different environment.”
SeaPort’s first flights came a day after Great Lakes Airlines made its final flight to Los Angeles International Airport. Great Lakes’ departure ends a tenure that began in September 2008 with flights to Ontario, in Southern California, under the subsidized federal Essential Air Service program. When it won the federal contract, Great Lakes became the fourth different airline to serve Visalia in as many years.
SeaPort is offering discounted, one-way fares of $39 to Sacramento and to Burbank for passengers who book tickets on the airline’s website www.seaportair.com/ by March 15 for flights through the end of March.