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WinAir's Shutdown Plan Clips Long Beach

Airlines: Utah-based carrier is ceasing operations. Port city had looked to it to help revive its airport, boost tourism.

July 07, 1999|DOUGLAS P. SHUIT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WinAir Airlines, which Long Beach city leaders had hoped would revive their underused airport, announced it would cease operations as of midnight Tuesday.

The airline, based in Salt Lake City, began serving Long Beach in November, offering low-cost flights to Oakland, Sacramento, Las Vegas and Salt Lake City.

The airline, citing financial difficulties, recently suspended operations to Oakland.

WinAir Chairman Larry Gelwix said the carrier had hoped to "attract investment capital to grow and expand." But he said the airline was "unable to sustain operations" when an infusion of new money failed to materialize.

All passengers with confirmed reservations will receive full refunds, the airline said.

WinAir employed more than 200 people in Long Beach.

Long Beach leaders, who had hoped the carrier would enhance local efforts to promote the city as a tourist destination, expressed disappointment.

In its brief history, WinAir flew 250,000 passengers to and from Long Beach and contributed more than $20 million to the regional economy, city leaders said.

"It is the city's intention to work aggressively toward acquiring new airline service targeting many of the destinations served by WinAir," Mayor Beverly O'Neill, City Manager Henry Taboada and Airport Manager Chris Kunze said in a joint statement.

"From our perspective, WinAir has proven the market by achieving a high load factor after being in business for only a little more than eight months."

American Airlines and America West will continue to operate a limited number of flights from Long Beach Airport, which has long been considered one of Southern California's most underutilized airports.

Alaska Airlines, Sun Jet, Presidential, Sterling and CalJet were among earlier airlines that tried Long Beach and pulled out.

WinAir entered the Long Beach market with a big splash, working with local schools and getting involved in joint promotions with the Long Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau.

City officials said they hope to offset the loss of revenue in part by continuing commercial development of the 1,100-acre airport.

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