Getting to Texas from Bakersfield may soon get a lot easier.
As announced Wednesday by Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the federal government has awarded Kern County half a million dollars to help support a resumption of passenger flights between Bakersfield and Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, one of the nation's busiest travel hubs.
Assuming private negotiations come to a successful conclusion, a county airport official said the money would be spent on advertising for American Airlines, which in October helped Kern secure the grant funding by writing a letter of support stating its interest in carrying passengers between the two cities.
The grant money was awarded by the U.S. Department of Transportation's Small Community Air Service Development Program.
"In Texas, Bakersfield has much in common and this new travel option is sure to stimulate the economy and provide additional travel and connecting options given DFW’s hub status," McCarthy said in a news release thanking Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao for the grant.
A spokesman for Fort Worth, Texas-based American Airlines, Matt Miller, said the company will "definitely take a closer look at the opportunity now that the grant has been made official.” He declined to estimate when the flights might begin.
In the 1980s and 1990s, Dallas was among the most popular destinations for travelers through Meadows Field. The service was eventually halted as demand for flights out of the airport diminished.
American Airlines currently offers flights between Bakersfield and Phoenix. The only other air carrier serving Meadows Field, United Airlines, provides service to and from Denver and San Francisco.
The county does not have an existing agreement with American Airlines to provide service to and from Dallas/Forth Worth, according to the county's interim airports director, Teresa Hitchcock. But because the airline already operates at the airport, she said, launching service to Texas should be possible within about eight months.
"Adding a destination for an airline that is already in the market is less costly for them,” she said. "I’m very hopeful that this is going to be successful.”
The timing appears fortunate, in that $50 million in runway upgrade work at Meadows Field is on schedule to be complete by November, Hitchcock added.
Bakersfield travel executive Ray W. Watson, president of Uniglobe Golden Empire Travel, said he believes sufficient demand exists to support service to Dallas, not just from the local oil industry but also general travelers.
"It's a great hub," he said. "We’re going to be able to go anywhere.”