A plane taking off from Grand Junction Regional Airport.

The Grand Junction Regional Airport received a big boost Wednesday to the effort of securing a new daily nonstop flight to the San Francisco area.

The airport will receive a $950,000 federal grant from the Department of Transportation’s Small Community Air Service Development program, airport Executive Director Angela Padalecki said. The DOT announced all of its SCASD grants Wednesday, totaling $12.5 million.

The grant is meant to entice airlines to launch flights to new destinations from smaller airports. A 50% community match is required with the SCASD program. That $475,000 will come from the Grand Junction Regional Air Service Alliance, created after voters approved a lodging tax increase in November 2018. Part of the lodging tax now goes to the alliance, which can allocate funds for programs such as this that will provide minimum revenue guarantees to airlines to reduce risk when starting a new flight. The alliance will also spend $100,000 on marketing.

Padalecki said the grant would not be possible without the matching contribution and applauded the public for passing the lodging tax increase.

“From an airport perspective, we see a community that decided to take a chance and approve a lodging tax increase and put their trust in the Air Service Alliance,” she said. “And I hope they really enjoy this reward.”

It’s unlikely that the new flight would come online in 2020 Padalecki said, but she’s in talks with United Airlines. Larger airlines typically list their flights for sale roughly six months in advance and prefer to start new routes in the second quarter of the year during a busier travel season, she said.

The grant doesn’t require an airline to bring a new flight to Grand Junction, but since the airport received a letter of support from United, Padalecki is optimistic the San Francisco flight will happen, even if it’s in 2021. The area is regularly in the top 5 destinations for Grand Junction travelers and opens up other locations within one stop, including overseas in Asia.

Grand Junction Economic Partnership Executive Director Robin Brown said that access is vital for some local industries.

“From our standpoint, the most exciting thing is that it is a hub to the Asian market, which is a benefit to our manufacturers,” Brown said. “It expands the destinations with one layover.”

Visit Grand Junction, the city’s tourism arm, has marketed extensively to the San Francisco area over the past two years, according to Director Elizabeth Fogarty. She noted that targeted marketing can be tracked by airlines and increase their confidence in starting a new flight.

“I think this is a great example of Visit Grand Junction’s partnership with the airport and the alliance and the value of the lodging tax,” Fogarty said.

San Francisco ranks in the top 10 of out-of-state markets for visitor arrivals to the Grand Junction area and visitors have a longer length of stay than any other out-of-state city in the top 10, Fogarty said.

Padalecki said she was grateful for the community effort and the support received from elected officials who provided letters in favor of the grant.

“Every corner of this valley came together to go after this tool and I’m so proud that we were able to capture it,” she said.

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