New Commuter Airline Bucks Odds in Oxnard


A commuter air service will begin flights out of Oxnard Airport this month, despite the failure of at least four similar efforts in the past 10 years.

The California Air Shuttle will provide direct service from Oxnard to San Francisco, San Jose, Sacramento and Las Vegas. It adds to the offerings of American Eagle, which flies to Los Angeles International Airport, and United Express, which services Los Angeles International and San Francisco.

While all three lines say they expect business to warrant expansion, the history is discouraging.

"There have been many before them," said Nona Makinson, operations manager of Ventura County Airports. "They have come and gone."

Those lines flew direct routes to places such as Los Angeles, Sacramento, Long Beach and Santa Barbara.

But they have struggled to obtain airplanes, gain route approval from the Federal Aviation Administration and get permission to land at airports already crowded with larger planes, Makinson said.

Desert Air leased counter space at Oxnard Airport for five months last year, but never offered any flights because its planes were never delivered, Makinson said.

California Air Shuttle, though, received three of its planes this week. It has received clearance from the U.S. Department of Transportation and awaits inspection by the FAA, said Michael Minson, company chairman.

The shuttle, the first commuter line to base its headquarters in Oxnard, is scheduled to start flights next week on its 19-passenger, pressurized twin-turbo jet-propeller planes.

The service is targeting business people who must fly north for a conference in the morning and return by evening, Minson said.

Fares will be equivalent to prices charged for flying out of Los Angeles International Airport.

Minson picked Oxnard after a marketing study he commissioned indicated growth in Ventura County's higher-income, business-executive population.

Further need was indicated by what Minson described as a doubling of commute time from the county to Los Angeles International in the past three years.

The other two carriers at Oxnard Airport--the only county airport that provides commuter service--also plan to tap into the potential market.

United Express, which has operated out of Oxnard for almost two years, started direct service to San Francisco in September.

And American Eagle, a subsidiary of American Airlines that has leased space at Oxnard for more than a year, plans to offer direct flights to San Jose sometime in 1990.

Minson already is thinking of expanding California Air Shuttle services to Orange County, Bakersfield, Oakland, Santa Rosa and Palm Springs.

He said he is trying to avoid becoming another statistic by providing cushy comforts to passengers.

To drown out plane noise, each passenger will have earphones to tune into a compact-disc player system offering pop music and classic radio comedies.

The high-gloss, cardboard ticket jackets are designed to be reminiscent of those handed out on the Concorde, and the planes are decorated in bright red, royal blue and light beige.

"They look like rockets," Minson said.

Minson said he expected to see a return on his investment within the first three months of service.

"People that travel have been waiting for this," Minson said. "There seems to be a lot of enthusiasm."

But the shuttle service will help not only residents trying to leave Ventura County. It may aid in promoting Ventura County to tourists, said Rob Varley, executive director of the Oxnard Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The direct Sacramento flight will help convention business, while Las Vegas residents looking for an escape from soaring temperatures may be attracted to Ventura County.

"I think it's going to be a real plus for getting people into the area," Varley said.

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