By Mary Alice Murphy
On Monday, June 3, 2019, most of the administrative staff of Advanced Airlines, which provides Essential Air Service to Grant County Airport, stopped in Silver City to talk to the community about the service and to get feedback from passengers of their airline, which has been providing service since Jan. 6, 2019.
Levi Stockton, president and founder, told the people gathered that the airline since it started in Grant County this year has had a 100% completion rate, with no flights canceled. Ontime performance has also been high at an average year-to-date of 98.12%, with delays due to weather, a few mechanical issues and some logistical problems.
Donny Sandusky, as executive vice president, is responsible for maximizing the performance of Advanced Airline and the Jet Center in Hawthorne, CA, near the Los Angeles Airport. "This is the first EAS route we've been awarded. It's a new experience, but it's a pleasure."
Barbara Hunt, vice president of business operations, said: "We came in when we started the service because we want you to know us. We want to hear what you're liking and how we can fix what you aren't liking. This evening, we are going to Clovis, to talk to them about expanding our EAS operations there. We have promised you here in Silver City that you will never be diluted. Our plan is to stay in the Southwest and not expand beyond. We will be rotating in and out of here on a regular basis."
Aaron Krieger, who is described as the go-to source at Advanced Air for aircraft management, jet charter flights and aircraft sales. He is also the director of sales and marketing. He said: "I know the website is confusing. Please let me know what you need for updates. I'm working on it."
Stockton noted that if they receive the EAS designation in Clovis, "we are looking at a flight from here to Clovis, which would then be one stop to Dallas. We will spend all day tomorrow in Clovis."
Rep. Rodolpho "Rudy" Martinez said: "So far it's been a positive contract for the community. We can fly up to Albuquerque for meetings and come back the same day. It's a comfortable plane. It's quiet, so I can have a conversation. You are providing a much-needed resource to fill a critical need."
Stockton said Advanced Air was providing service to Phoenix seven days a week to and from. "We heard from passengers that they wanted an AM flight to Phoenix and a PM flight back. We will tweak the schedule for that to happen on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. We want more people to be able to use the service."
Hunt said as long as the air service provides seven flights to Phoenix per week and 17 to Albuquerque, "we can tweak."
Stockton said currently there are three round trips from Silver City to Albuquerque. "We might move one to Thursday, which seems to be a busy day. Our goal is to reach or exceed 10,000 boardings. We are right around 8,000. If we get over 10,000, you get extra federal funding."
Southwest New Mexico Council of Governments Executive Director Priscilla Lucero asked if there were a way to give department heads or agencies for veterans the information, as some may not be aware of the services. "Their reimbursement process from here to Albuquerque could pay their costs to fly. You also need some branding from Santa Fe to here, because people can go to Albuquerque and fly into here. I see opportunities to bring federal folks from Dallas-Fort Worth to fly to Albuquerque and down to Silver City."
Stockton asked Lucero to give the contacts she has to Krieger, who is directly responsible for implementation of strategic goals.
"Aaron can get in touch with them," Stockton said.
Sandusky said the airline is working on a system for directly booking federal folks.
Martinez noted that the task force for veterans would be a good source for information. "Right now, the veterans going to Albuquerque for appointments at the V.A. Hospital, leave Silver City in a van at 1 or 2 a.m. and arrive back in Silver City around 10 or 11 p.m. The previous airline had roundtrip tickets for veterans."
"Let's fix that," Stockton said.
Hunt suggested buying ticket booklets without just one individual's name, so it could be used by veterans.
Scott Terry, Silver City-Grant County Chamber of Commerce president and director, said a lot of people don't know about Advanced Air. "Maybe you have a video we can put on our website?"
Stockton agreed to work on it. "We are also working on getting TSA pre-check. It doesn't make sense to have to go through security in Phoenix. Right now, we are going from or to a so-called non-sterile airport in Silver City. Soon we will be in a new terminal in Phoenix that is under construction."
Ted Pressler asked about taxis. "It costs right now $40 for 1 person to get from the airport to town. There must be a way to get it fixed with the hotels for a reasonably priced taxi service. It's great for us who drive out there and park, but not for someone coming from elsewhere."
Stockton said: "Ground transportation is not our thing. But we are committed to getting an Enterprise guarantee. We've been working on it since February last year. We, for our folks, own two cars here."
Ruth Seawolf, insurance agent and realtor, said there are a couple of Lyft providers in town.
Randy Villa, Grant County general services director, said the public transportation, Corre Caminos, has a bus that goes to Deming and back on a fixed route. "We're still looking at the possibility of going to the airport."
Holley Hudgins of HMS said: "I'm just thankful we have air service."
Pressler said the Southwest Festival of the Written Word would be held this fall. "If we were able to sell out a plane from and to Albuquerque, could we do a package deal?"
"We would have to use the seats we already have," Stockton said.
Hunt said there might be flexibility for Friday and Monday that weekend.
Derek Ratcliff, Walgreen's manager and chamber board member, noted that the flights on Advanced Air are much smoother than flights he has flown in on American Eagle.
To a question about luggage, Stockton replied that each person could have up to 50 pounds.
A woman asked about notice of cancellations or delays.
"So far, we've had one weather issue and we moved the flight to the next day," Stockton said. "We call you directly."
Rep. Rebecca Dow asked how the EAS decision is made at the federal level.
"Only so many airports have EAS," Stockton said.
Hunt said the flights are U.S. Department of Transportation subsidized. "They talk to subsidized carriers to find out what's good about the service, and it has to be a certain distance from a major airport. Silver City is not capped, because of its distance from hubs. The process is well monitored. There are no restraints on reason for travel. It began in the 1980s when deregulation started. Communities lost air service because it wasn't profitable for large carriers, but those same communities need air service, so the government is partly paying for it."
Stockton said Silver City has been very engaged in the process.
Seawolf said Advanced Air's service is "great."
Hunt noted the books of tickets are $62 each way.
A woman asked how she could find out when they were tweaking the schedule.
"We look at the passengers who might be affected," Stockton said.
Sandusky chimed in and said: "We let them know two months in advance."
Hunt noted it was a major problem to work around Daylight Saving Time for the flight to Phoenix "because Silver City is on DST, but Phoenix is not."
She said the airline rotates its airplane regularly to the Hawthorne base in California for maintenance and detailing.
County Airport Manager Rebekkah Wenger said: "You have made a huge difference. Staff scheduling is easy, and we like that you fuel with us."
Hunt said the group was there to receive feedback. "You can send us feedback to email@example.com or get it to Priscilla or Scott. We all look at the feedback, so we know what's going on."