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SLO alliance lobbies American Airlines

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San Luis Obispo County is one of only four airports nationwide that will lose its American Eagle flights.

American Airlines’ local American Eagle service will take its last flight out of the SLO County Regional Airport on Nov. 1. The move will leave 84 people without a job, ground three planes, and, combined with announced service cuts from US Airways and Delta Connection, put a question mark over plans to expand the airport.

Now many local business and community leaders want to know what went wrong and what, if anything, will convince American Eagle to stay put.

“We really haven’t gotten an explanation from the airline as to why they’ve made this drastic change,” Assistant Airports Manager Craig Piper said.

Despite the US Airways and Delta Connection cuts, the airport and business communities have locked interest on American Eagle.

On Aug. 20, the San Luis Obispo County Air Transportation Alliance—the brainchild of the Economic Vitality Corporation and Chamber of Commerce—headed to American Airlines’ corporate headquarters in Dallas in hopes of maintaining SLO’s service. As of press time there had been no report back of the talks.

The airline employs 18 people in customer service and 66 workers in its maintenance facility. But when American Eagle leaves, all those jobs and the maintenance facility will be lost.

The sudden departure has perplexed some in the airport and the business communities. American Eagle maintains that its reason for the pullout is high fuel costs, but SLO is the only California airport that has been cut. Three East Coast airports and one in the Dominican Republic will also lose service, according to American Eagle representative Andrea Huguely.

Huguely said fuel costs are the driving force, but SLO routes specifically were no longer profitable.

Not that SLO’s planes are taking off empty, Piper said. Between January and July, the number of passengers dropped about 5 percent, which he said was fairly modest in the current economic downturn.

“The numbers have gone down some, but there’s still pretty good loads on those planes going out.”

The Santa Barbara Airport will keep its American Eagle service. Mike Manchak of the EVC attributed the loss of service to SLO’s demographic as compared to surrounding areas.

“Clearly, the difference is the population and the number of businesses (in Santa Barbara),” he said.

Although the airport is willing to work with American Eagle, Piper said, no one really knows what could entice them to stay.

Work on expansions is under way and airport officials are moving forward with road improvements that will improve traffic safety and pave the way for a new terminal and parking structure.

But American Eagle has already told people they will be losing their jobs and Huguely was doubtful that there would be a sudden change of mind.

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