meadows airport

A Bakersfield passenger is screen by TSA agents before taking a flight from Meadows Field Airport. Hopeful signs this month point to improved air service at the county airport in northwest Bakersfield.

We have been given hope. But it’s going to take more than hope to bring decent airline service to Meadows Field, Kern County’s airport in northwest Bakersfield.

Transforming the airport from a money-loser to a money-maker, and giving Kern County residents a reason to FLY MEADOWS, will need the commitment of public agencies and businesses, as well as the support of the traveling public.

This month, Kern County residents saw some hopeful signs – a new, experienced airport director arrived; American Airlines announced plans to begin a direct flight from Meadows Field to its major hub in Dallas; and a $500,000 federal Small Community Air Service Development Program grant was awarded to help American Airlines market the new route and offset startup losses.

It’s now up to local government agencies and businesses, as well as Kern County residents to support the airport and convince American and other airlines to establish, maintain and expand service.

In addition to being a transportation convenience, a viable airport is an economic driver. But in recent decades, Meadows Field has been an economic victim, as booms and busts roiled the region.

Particularly as a result of the area’s economic dependence on the oil industry, airline interest in serving Meadows Field has ebbed and waned. The Great Recession and subsequent plunge in demand for Kern’s oil resulted in a withdrawal of direct connecting flights from Meadows Field. 

Former Kern County Airports Director Richard Strickland, who resigned earlier this year, lamented in a report to Kern County supervisors, that the airport’s debt outpaced its revenue and required subsidies from the county’s general fund.

Strickland laid out a plan to obtain operating funds through fees and tax dollars. He called for increased efforts to stem the “leakage” of passengers, who drive to airports in Southern California, rather than fly from Meadows Field. Last year, the Kern County Grand Jury issued a critical report that called for improvements at Meadows Field, as well as outlying small county airports.

We hope Mark Witsoe, who supervisors appointed to manage the county Airports Department, builds on American Airlines’ agreement to add a direct flight to Dallas and on the SCASDP grant to bring improved air service to Kern County.

Direct flights from Meadows Field presently only go to Phoenix, San Francisco and Denver. With so few flights and so little competition, air fares often are so high that a two-hour drive to LAX is more cost-effective than to fly from Meadows Field.

Witsoe brings to his new job as Kern’s airports director nearly 30 years of airport industry executive experience. Before coming to Kern, he was the marketing and business development manager for the King County, Wash., airport, which also is known as Boeing Field.

Before that, he was the business development manager, airside real estate, for the Port of Portland and was manager of property administration for the Reno-Tahoe Airport Authority. Before specializing in airport property management, he worked as an operations superintendent at Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport.

There’s more to running an airport than lining up airline connections, and ensuring planes arrive and depart safely. Funding airport operations through business opportunities and providing travelers with competitive fares are critical to the airport’s overall economic viability and future.

We wish Witsoe well as he tackles the many challenges he faces at Meadows Field. Kern is depending on him to quickly transform this month’s hopeful signs into tomorrow’s reality.