Commercial passenger air service through the Bishop Airport continued down the runway toward reality Wednesday as Inyo County and its consultants hosted a workshop and a public hearing on the issue Wednesday.
According to consultants working with the county on the project, flights could be arriving and departing the Bishop Airport by the end of this year.
A 41-day review and comment period regarding documents prepared under the California Environmental Quality Act and the National Environment Policy Act for commercial air service at the Bishop Airport concludes at 5 p.m. April 12. The documents and instructions on how to provide comments can be found on the Inyo County’s Public Works Department website, www.inyocounty.us/services/public-works.
During Wednesday’s workshop, Chris Jones, principal associate of Environmental Science Associates, an environmental consulting firm hired by Inyo County, provided background on the purpose and the need for the project as well as the draft environmental assessment for the project.
Jones was accompanied by a few other ESA consultants as well as county staff during Wednesday’s workshop and hearing.
A recording of the workshop and the public hearing should soon be available on the county’s Public Works Department website as well.
Jones said Inyo County has identified an unmet demand for commercial air passenger service in the Eastern Sierra region.
Commercial air passenger service in the region is currently only offered at Mammoth Yosemite Airport, he said, adding that there have been challenges that have resulted in unmet demand.
Unpredictable winter weather conditions leading to low visibility and unfavorable cross winds have led to an average flight cancellation rate of 12% during the winter seasons since commercial service was first introduced in 2008, he said.
Jones pointed out that as Mammoth Mountain is a popular ski resort, demand for commercial air passenger services is heaviest during the winter season. Cancelation of airline flights has a direct financial impact to local stakeholders, negatively affecting airline schedules and frustrating airline passengers.
The high rate of canceled flights and lack of reliability has affected demand for service and annual flights have declined since peaking in 2013, Jones said.
Need and demand
Bishop Airport, located approximately 45 miles southeast of Mammoth Lakes and one and a half miles east of the city of Bishop in the Owens Valley, is less affected by winter weather conditions that have affected service at Mammoth airport, he said.
Jones noted that this is evidenced by the fact that Bishop Airport currently serves the majority of general aviation, air cargo and military air traffic in the Eastern Sierra region.
After Inyo County raised the issue with the Federal Aviation Administration, the agency recommended that Inyo County coordinate with the town of Mammoth Lakes to identify a regional solution.
Beginning in 2015, Inyo County and the town of Mammoth Lakes began coordinating on a regional solution with other stakeholders, including Mammoth Lakes Tourism and Mammoth Mountain ski area.
In January 2018, Inyo County and the town of Mammoth Lakes adopted and signed a statement of intent for flexibility cooperation in the development of infrastructure and programs in support of reliable and expanded commercial air service and delivered it to the FAA, which must certify an airport’s operation in order to provide commercial air passenger service.
Jones said United Airlines, Inc., and its partner SkyWest Airlines, are interested in amending SkyWest’s operations specifications to allow the airline to provide scheduled commercial air passenger service to Bishop Airport.
Jones said commercial air passenger service would begin in late 2021, with three arrivals and three departures per day during the winter season, Dec. 15 through April 15.
Service during the winter season would initially consist of one flight daily between Los Angeles International Airport and Bishop Airport, one flight daily between Denver International Airport and Bishop Airport and one flight daily between San Francisco International Airport and Bishop Airport.
Service during the summer and shoulder season, April 16 through Dec. 14, would consist of one flight daily between Los Angeles International Airport and Bishop Airport.
Patrick Hickman of Environmental Science Associates said the passenger aircraft serving the Bishop Airport is anticipated to be the Canadair Regional Jet 700 which seats about 70 people, is about 106 feet long with a 76-foot wing span.
Jones said an additional flight between San Francisco International Airport and Bishop Airport is anticipated to be added during the 2024 winter season. An additional flight between San Diego International Airport and Bishop Airport is anticipated to be added during the 2027 winter season.
Winter service at Bishop Airport would be subsidized through a minimum revenue guarantee contract with the same public/private alliance currently supporting airline operations at Mammoth Yosemite Airport. Inyo County would join the alliance to help subsidize service at Bishop Airport.
Jones said a draft environmental assessment has been prepared pursuant to the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act, California Environmental Quality Act regulations and the FAA.
The draft EA, which includes five chapters and 10 appendices, identifies and considers the potential impacts associated with the project. The FAA is the lead federal agency to ensure compliance with NEPA.
There are about a dozen resources reviewed within the draft EA, some with sub categories, and include: air quality; biological resources; climate; hazardous materials; pollution prevention; historical, architectural, archaeological, and cultural resources; land use; natural resources and energy supply; noise and “noise-compatible land use;” socioeconomics, to include environmental justice, and children’s environmental health and safety risks; visual effects; and water resources (groundwaterand surface waters only).
The study looks at years 2022, the first full year commercial air passenger service is anticipated to be in operation at Bishop Airport, and 2028, the sixth full year after the commencement of commercial air passenger service and the year when the airport’s forecast anticipates growth in passenger service to plateau.
Because of the location and planned limited operations at the Bishop Airport, Jones noted on each resource that the airport would have little to no impact on them.
What happens next?
Inyo County will prepare and submit a final EA to the FAA. The FAA will independently review the final EA to determine its adequacy under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), Council on Environmental Quality’s regulations implementing NEPA (40 CFR Part 1500), and FAA Orders 1050.1F and 5050.4B. If the final EA is determined to be adequate, the FAA will decide to either issue a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) or prepare a Federal Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).