SkyWest flees, leaving Chico grounded

You think commercial air service in Sacramento is limited? Try living in Chico.

The picturesque little university town 90 minutes north of here has attracted some high-tech businesses lately, but this month, the city suffered a notable loss.

SkyWest, the city’s sole commercial airline, stopped flights. The airline was running three daily flights to and from San Francisco but wasn’t meeting its goals. Chico joins a number of smaller cities that have been grounded during or after the recession as airlines failed, merged and made big service cuts.

Chico leaders say they want some form of air service back and are searching for ways to make it happen.

“We are not letting go easily,” said City Manager Mark Orme.

The city and Chico Chamber of Commerce have sent out surveys to businesses and residents, asking them their travel habits and desires. The city also is likely to hire a consultant to manage the airport property and help talk with air carriers about what can be done to lure service back.

City officials say they already have had preliminary talks with charter services about the possibility of some form of service. That might, however, require local businesses to contribute funds into a “travel bank” to assure potential aviation companies that they won’t lose money by giving Chico a try.

There is another possibility: Stay grounded. Many Chico residents and businesses were driving to Sacramento and Bay Area airports already, even when SkyWest was in business.

But the drive to Sacramento can take an hour and a half. Katie Simmons of the Chamber of Commerce says it’s clear the business community would be better off if companies and their clients could fly directly into town.

“Everybody is invested in keeping Chico connected,” she said. “We have a lot of businesses that rely on commercial air services for their vendors, for client travel. The university relies on being connected to an airport. We need to find a sustainable solution.”

Davis offramp remake

The city of Davis is launching an an improvement project at the I-80 freeway ramps at Richards Boulevard and the Olive Drive intersection. City officials say a lot of cyclists cross the freeway there and are forced to deal with high-speed traffic coming off or heading onto the freeway.

The tentative plan is to rebuild the ramps and add a signalized intersection at Richards. That should give cyclists safer passage. The city might also reduce some traffic backups at Olive heading into downtown by moving the ramps farther away from Olive, leaving more space for cars to line up between the two intersections.

There are no plans to widen Richards under the rail tracks, but officials say they are considering a pedestrian and bike rail crossing on Olive just east of Richards.

Call The Bee’s Tony Bizjak, (916) 321-1059.