These days it seems Mammoth Mountain Ski Area’s Chief Marketing Officer Howard Pickett seems to fancy himself as another sort of Howard … Sheckter. On Wednesday, Pickett updated Mammoth’s Planning Commission on the state of commercial air service, this time focusing less on feel-good statistics and more on long-range forecasting. In “Air Service: A Cornerstone for Growth,” Pickett talked about the operation’s success to date, but the centerpiece of his talk was on advance air service as part of a developing 10-year plan.
“The community needs a consistent understanding of why air service is important to how we approach our investments,” Pickett said. “We need a long-term plan for growth, and where we are going to be in five or 10 years. We also need to think ahead in terms of infrastructure to support the demands that come with more flights.”
Air service, he illustrated, “broadens the economic base for the region,” which he indicated could open avenues for executives and businesses to set up shop and work from here. “You can’t discount the quality of life aspect for residents,” who can take advantage of easier access to L.A. and beyond.
“Air service is like water, roads and broadband … it’s a necessity of life to have a vibrant community,” he said.
He also opined that air service, even taking its obvious expenses into consideration, has a great “return on investment.” Pickett said economic extrapolations show that the $2.2-2.5 million in annual operating expenses translates into $23-25 million in economic benefit.
Expanding service in existing markets reinforces the idea “you can fly there.” Orange County and San Diego are clamoring for flights, Pickett said. “We’ll get there soon, just not this year,” he added. He also projected more coverage in regional markets in the Pacific Northwest and Southwest areas. In addition to partnerships with Horizon and United, Pickett said that American Airlines recently tied its airport codes to Horizon to service customers who want to book directly into Mammoth.
What’s needed right now: terminal expansion, and a longer, wider runway, which was first talked about 10 years ago, but is now apparently back on the front burner. Regulatory and governmental processes need to be completed to secure federal approval and funding, all of which Pickett said needs to be started immediately to meet the opportunities more air service will bring.
One question posed by Commissioner Elizabeth Tenney and Chair Tony Barrett specifically addressed how cancelled flights are being handled. Pickett responded that the problem is partly about notification issues between Horizon and its passengers, but also the limited number of flights, as well as reassignment of available aircraft, and the simple fact that Los Angeles isn’t a Horizon hub.
“I understand what people have gone through,” he said. “I’ve been on a half-dozen flights that have been cancelled, which meant getting off the plane and renting a car to return to Mammoth.”