Flagstaff, AZ – The twice a day service from LAX to Flagstaff began in June of 2008. Three months later service was added to Prescott. Horizon's sudden decision to cancel the flights was a huge surprise to both cities. John Lauher is the Pulliam Airport Director in Flagstaff.
"It caught us completely off guard, it caught their own employees off guard, I had the misfortune of talking to one of the local Horizon employees and she didn't know that her own company was pulling out on the 22nd of August. It's just unfortunate the way it came down. They gave us about 30 minutes notice that they were going to do a press release "
Lauher says two months ago the city was actually in discussions with Horizon about expanding their destinations from Flagstaff to Las Vegas and Santa Rosa, California. But late Tuesday Horizon sold four of its regional jets, and in order to fill the rest of their routes, they had to take the smaller planes that fly out of Flagstaff, Prescott and five other airports. Lauher says Flagstaff is one of Horizon's least profitable routes, but it was making money.
"They were flying at between 50 and 60 percent full, which is a pretty high number for a regional carrier. They flew about 21,000 passengers out of Flagstaff last year."
Both Flagstaff and Prescott subsidized Horizon Air during the first year of its service. Flagstaff paid the airline $458,000 in revenue guarantees; Prescott paid $142,000, although some of that was picked up by the town of Prescott Valley. Prescott Economic development director Jane Bristol says the investment paid off.
"From an economic development standpoint, having that connection to LAX, in our talks with business site selection people, was just invaluable."
Horizon was the largest airline serving the Prescott airport. Two years ago Mesa Air pulled its federally subsidized service between Prescott and Phoenix. Bristol says Prescott did everything it could to keep Horizon.
"It was just the economy, people losing jobs, the depression in the construction industry, really contributed to less disposable income, for residents and biz people that we were hoping would be able to take advantage of this service. I think the timing was off.
Still, Bristol believes its possible to attract a larger airline carrier to Prescott again in the future just not until the economy improves.