By Helen Tomlin News Review Staff Writer– During last Tuesday’s Chamber of Commerce luncheon meeting, Scott O’Neil discussed the proposed study to bring back Ridgecrest’s air service. O’Neil, who serves as the Executive Director for the Indian Wells Valley Economic Development Corporation (IWV EDC), along with a coalition of experienced and knowledgeable local leaders, has made it his mission to restore this important service to the base contractors, the local businesses, and the community. Since EDC’s primary focus is “to enhance the economic prosperity and quality of life for the greater Ridgecrest area,” he sees no bigger need right now than to do this for the IWV and the broader region.
For 70 years, people who live and work in the surrounding areas enjoyed the convenience of being able to fly out of the nearby Inyokern Airport in order to connect to other flights at the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). That is until 11 years ago when two main issues brought that service to an abrupt halt. According to Scott Seymour, the Inyokern Airport Manager, what shut the flights down were high ticket prices and the changing FAA rules. “In 2013, SkyWest would no longer be coming to the airport,” he said. “The ridership was down because the ticket prices were the highest,” ranging around $400. “After that, there was a change in the FAA rules that affected the licensing of the co-pilots and their hours as pilots in command.” This new rule affected almost 50 small airports and the “commuter industry is basically non-existent now.” He said, “Trying to find a commuter airline right now – there isn’t one.” Another problem is that the smallest airplane SkyWest flies at this time is a 70-seater.
But O’Neil and his team will not be deterred by the past. O’Neil has been in discussions with Hospitio Consulting Service and InterFlight Global to conduct a study of the feasibility of bringing back air service to our area. He has also interviewed major employees such as the Navy, the Hospital, the Sierra Sands school district, and local defense companies. He wants to “discuss our needs and the challenges our community faces.” He said, “We’ve got a lot of people in Ridgecrest who see a very strong need for air service.” His goal is to have Las Vegas and Phoenix as destination points and to be able to schedule charters that have flexibility. For example, “if a group from the base wants to go to Tucson once a week, we have the flexibility to do that.”
O’Neil explained that the current objective right now is to “define an approach for persistent air service to the IWV and to acquire it then.” His approach is to develop an air service model “that meets our needs and then to develop an actionable implementation plan.” The goal is to maintain and service the jets here, hire local pilots (since there are a lot of them), and charge $100 per ticket. The funds necessary for this to begin to happen as quickly as possible are $190,000. He shared the plans divided into three 5-week phases. The first phase, costing $50K, is to define the requirements, economic impacts, and strengths and weaknesses. The second phase, costing $75K, is to “develop a market plan and approach,” and the third phase, costing $50K, is to have operator and asset discussions and prepare to launch the service.
When asked about his thoughts regarding O’Neil’s efforts to bring air service back to the Inyokern airport, Seymour said, “There are going to be some hurdles, but I stand behind it 100 percent.”
The IWV EDC is a 501(c) (3) nonprofit, so any donations to this venture would be welcomed at iwv-edc.com.