Call it the battle of the high-flying San Diego subsidy. Back in June, the board of the Phoenix-Mesa Gateway airport voted to approve an “incentive package” valued at more than $1.3 million to entice Portland, Maine-based Elite Airways to begin regular flights between Mesa and San Diego. According to an account in the Arizona Republic, the six-month deal included “waived landing and terminal fees, cash for marketing and ‘revenue guarantees’ in which Gateway will compensate the airline for empty seats on flights that don’t generate enough passengers.”
If sufficient numbers of $140 tickets to San Diego aren’t sold for the nine weekly flights, the airport would end up forking over about $7000 for each partially unfilled plane. Located about 20 miles outside Phoenix on the site of what was the former Williams Air Force Base, the small airport has also been a “focus city” for Allegiant Airlines. But that company objected to the Elite payments, calling them unfair and threatening to move its base of operations to Phoenix Sky Harbor International airport.
As of last month, the fate of Allegiant’s tenancy was still up in the air. “While a move to Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport is likely at this point, the decision has not yet been made, and we will be sure to inform the public if and when a decision to move is made,” said a company email to the East Valley Tribune. Elite’s service to San Diego is expected to start sometime this month. Other of its routes include Branson, Missouri, to Denver, as well as flights between Newark, New Jersey, and Rockford, Illinois.