Bishop-based regional air service delayed to 2021

Inyo Register Staff/Special to the Times
Staff Writer

The arrival of commercial air service at the Bishop Airport has been delayed to 2021, due in part to the impact of coronavirus restrictions on the effort to bring the airport up to the federal standards for commercial air service.

After years of Mammoth resisting a move to regional air service, Mammoth had joined Bishop this past year to work toward a regional airport for both counties located in Bishop, according to a recent news release. The goal was to begin commercial service this winter, starting as soon as October. This aggressive timeline provided little or no margin for unforeseen circumstances, according to a press release from Inyo County, which owns and operates the airport.

Then, Covid-19 arrived, changing and delaying plans.

“In consultation with the Federal Aviation Administration, Mammoth Lakes Tourism, and Mammoth Mountain Ski Area, we have determined that we will be unable to make the October 2020 opening date. This means service will not be available for the winter season,” Inyo County Administrative Officer Clint Quilter said.

“This decision is not made lightly and does not decrease our resolve to have commercial flights to the Bishop Airport commencing in 2021,” he said. “The schedule has been impacted by a variety issues, including the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Quilter said that Inyo County, the FAA, Mammoth Lakes Tourism, and Mammoth Mountain Ski Area are working in partnership toward commercial air service in Bishop and said they are committed to air service in 2021.

The millions of dollars of improvements and other upgrades being proposed and underway at the airport are being funded almost exclusively with grants from the Federal Aviation Administration, he said. For a number of years, Mammoth Mountain Ski Area and Mammoth Lakes Tourism have been subsidizing commercial flights into Mammoth Yosemite Airport.
But in recent years the high number of cancelled flights, especially in the winter ski season, prompted the effort to shift commercial air service to the Bishop Airport. It is expected that the Bishop Airport’s multiple, longer runways and lower elevation will enable fewer flight delays and cancellations due to wind and weather conditions, the news release stated.

Quilter said that already tight turnaround times by Inyo County, its consultants and the FAA were impacted by the initial confusion caused by shifting to a primarily work-at-home environment. Important trainings to prepare for staffing a commercial airport were delayed or cancelled. Finally, uncertainty regarding federal, state and local budgets in the near term made decisions to front money and provide cash flow to the project much more difficult.

However, work will continue on the airport for the rest of this year and into next year, he said.

“That being said, we are proceeding with all of the design work, physical improvements, environmental documents and equipment purchase necessary to begin commercial service in 2021,” Quilter said.

This work includes, but is not limited to, these improvements:
• Bishop Airport Taxi runway rehabilitation project
• Purchasing aircraft rescue and fire fighting vehicle
• Firefighter certification for airport personnel
• Completion of the Environmental Assessment document and the ‘Initial Study of the Proposed Commercial Service’
• Terminal design and purchase
• Negotiating with airlines regarding facility use