Visalia Municipal Airport is getting a new airline to replace the current carrier.
SeaPort Airlines, based in Portland, Oregon, has been awarded the Essential Air Service contract for Visalia by the Department of Transportation.
The airline will likely start flights in February, said Visalia airport manager Mario Cifuentez.
The contract calls for SeaPort to fly twice a day to Oakland and Burbank — but the plot is thickening.
SeaPort is making noises about dropping Oakland and flying elsewhere, probably to Sacramento, according to city insiders.
When asked about it, SeaPort said this in a statement: “The current EAS contract is for service to Burbank and Oakland, but we are considering alternative options that may better serve the community.”
The suspense should end soon as SeaPort plans to announce routes and schedules Jan. 6.
The Department of Transportation would have to approve any change, and the city would get to weigh in.
Under the Essential Air Service program, which was reauthorized by Congress this month, airlines get a subsidy to serve small communities. The subsidy is funded by ticket taxes and fees charged foreign carriers. SeaPort will get just under $2 million over the two-year life of the contract.
The airline will use nine-seat Cessna Caravan single-engine turboprop planes that are unpressurized and fly at 12,500 feet or lower.
Projected one-way fares are $59 to $99, according to a staff report to the City Council earlier this year.
Great Lakes Airlines, which currently has the Visalia contract and flies to Los Angeles, will end its service when SeaPort takes over. The contract came up for renewal this year and the city recommended SeaPort over Great Lakes because of complaints about too many canceled flights.
The van service helps those who might otherwise not see the doctor because of transportation issues, said Kerry Hydash, president and CEO of the organization, which operates 14 health clinics in Tulare and Kings counties.
“It’s been proven that lack of transportation is a barrier to care,” she said.
The organization expects to give rides to 16 to 20 patients per day in Visalia.
Family Health Care Network already offers free rides to clinics in Porterville, Hanford, Cutler-Orosi, Goshen, Woodlake, Farmersville and Terra Bella.
Patients arrange the ride to the clinic and home again when they make an appointment. The vans have infant and toddler car seats.
Matthew Spindler has a degree in accounting and sales experience, while Erin Olm-Shipman brings grantwriting and fund development skills.
“They both have different strengths,” said board president Sue Tharp. “I think this ... formula will be effective. They’re young and have a lot of enthusiasm.”
Kent Stahl will remain as director of operations.
The Visalia Fox is an iconic downtown Visalia structure that serves as home for the Tulare County Symphony and is used by traveling entertainers and others. It turns 85 next year.