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United Airlines suspends planned service at Santa Maria Airport

SANTA MARIA, Calif. – United Airlines has announced it has suspended planned service at Santa Maria Public Airport (SMX).

"Obviously, we're very disappointed," said airport general manager Chris Hastert. "Not so much in the decision because we did see that coming with everything that's changed right now, but with all of those efforts. We made great efforts to finally get them to make a decision to go into three hubs, and so that is very disappointing that it is now postponed. We're hopeful in the future that it will come back and we continue to meet with other airlines as well. I just got back from a conference meeting with several of them, but with everything going on in the industry, it's definitely going to be a few months before we're even able to make forward progress again."

The move comes as the airline continues to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

United Airlines released a statement, noting the pandemic was the leading factor in its decision to pull the upcoming flights from SMX.

Throughout the pandemic, United has continued to evaluate and adapt its network to respond to the changing travel landscape. Due to the pandemic and changes in market conditions since our initial announcement, United has made the difficult decision to suspend its plan to operate nonstop service to Santa Maria, Calif. (SMX) from Denver and San Francisco. We will continue to serve the region and greater Central Coast community with service to Santa Barbara Airport (SBA) and San Luis Obispo County Regional Airport (SBP).

Statement from United Airlines

In January 2020, the airline announced it was adding direct routes to Los Angeles International Airport, San Francisco International Airport, and Denver International Airport from Santa Maria.

Daily service was expected to begin June 4, 2020.

However, within weeks of the announcement, the COVID-19 pandemic started, disrupting the entire airline industry.

In mid-March, United announced it was postponing the start of service to October 2020. It also decided to pull its planned service to Los Angeles.

Now with the latest announcement, SMX will continue to continue to operate without daily commercial service.

Currently, Allegiant flies to Las Vegas five times a week, to Mesa, Arizona twice weekly, as well as Portland, Oregon twice weekly.

"We're still very fortunate," said Hastert. "We still have Allegiant. They've announced some new destinations with Portland and Mesa, and that covers are leisure travel market, but we were really hoping for to better serve our business community and Vandenberg Air Force Base, so that's where we're really hurting right now. Right now, that industry trend is that business is still not coming back as fast as they would like it be, and so that factored into the decision I'm sure."

Hastert said airport leadership continues to work with airlines in an ongoing effort to establish additional flights.

"We never give up," said Hastert. "Once United make their announcement, we were continually meeting with all of the airlines to look at any potential market. We just got back from a conference meeting with several airlines and it was very positive. There's a lot of interest in Santa Maria. It really just comes down to the industry working out and Santa Maria being a good fit at the time."

Hastert added the airport still holds an valuable incentive package it can provide an airline that begins service to the city.

"That package consisted of a couple of different things," said Hastert. "Some of it was airport tax money and things like that, that we can use for revenue guarantees, so that remains on the table for any airline, but there was a portion, that was a small community air service development grant that was designated for United. That's actually back on the table for a different airline, so it is for eastbound service, so if Delta wanted to talk to us about Salt Lake City, or American to Phoenix, or something like that, there's $490,000 of grant money available as well."

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Dave Alley

Dave Alley is a reporter and anchor at NewsChannel 3-12. To learn more about Dave, click here.

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