By Deb Murphy

The consultant’s presentation of a draft air service strategic plan fell a little short of expectations at Thursday’s meeting of the Mammoth/Inyo County working group focused on reliable Eastern Sierra air service.

Mammoth’s Public Works Director Grady Dutton warned the audience the draft, prepared by Mead & Hunt, was just that. “We have a long way to go,” he said. “Nothing precludes regional service at both airports.”

In all fairness, the presentation’s mind-numbing numbers did point the group, formed by the Eastern Sierra Council of Governments, in a direction. The presenter Jeff Hartz just didn’t identify that direction.

In a nutshell: the size and distance limitations of planes that can land at Mammoth/Yosemite Airport could define the eventual marketing plan. The obvious answer was a commitment by Mammoth to partner with the Bishop airport, but that prospect was glossed over by Hartz’ presentation. Apparently, looking at Bishop would require more than the $70,000 cost of the eventual plan.

Many of the urban areas that fall within the 6-700 mile range limitation on smaller airplanes are also near other ski resorts.

Mammoth’s reliability was “decent,” according to Hartz until the 2016-17 season of endless snow when the number of flights was down by 31-percent over the 2014 peak season.

The shiny pot at the end of the air service rainbow was the $600 spent by each airline passenger, compared to the $56.82 subsidy paid to Alaska Airlines.

Inyo’s administrative officer Kevin Carunchio laid into Hartz during the comment period. He explained that some of the information on Bishop was wrong or not up to date, presenting a dire picture of the airport’s potential to handle commercial air service. He outlined work completed and in progress at the airport and asked that the next draft include those corrections.

In a phone interview Monday, Inyo Supervisor Jeff Griffiths, a member of the working group but unable to attend the presentation, said the 139 compliance, that will include the timeline and cost of prepping Bishop for commercial air service, is near completion and will be fact checked by the Federal Aviation Administration. “Then we can move on to talk about regional air service,” he said. He anticipates a statement of intent for Mammoth and Inyo County to work together will be signed within the next few months.

At the conclusion of the comment period, Mono Supervisor Bob Gardner described the presentation as “good marketing stuff” he said. “I’m not looking at collaboration. What makes more sense is one airport and using funding to maximize that.”

Bishop Mayor Joe Pecsi agreed with Gardner, but wanted the few pages on the Bishop facility corrected.

“Everybody wants reliable air service,” Mammoth Tourism Executive Director John Urdi said in a phone interview. The consultant presented the facts, he added. “Now the groups can get together and develop a plan based on that data.”