HARLINGEN, Texas – The City of Harlingen and South Padre Island are working more closely than ever to ensure an efficient shuttle service is operating between SPI and Valley International Airport.

This is the view of Marv Esterly, aviation director for VIA.

“We are joined at the hip with South Padre Island, the City of Harlingen and Valley International Airport,” Esterly said.

“We carry 70 percent of the air traffic going to the island through Valley International Airport. So we realize we need each other. We have quickly formed a great partnership.”

Esterly gave his views to the Rio Grande Guardian on the first day Viva Aerobus brought passengers to VIA from Monterrey.

“It is important we have great ground transportation once you get here. That is one of the things we are working on right now,” Esterly said.

“We have a reciprocating agreement with South Padre Island that allows South Padre Island taxis to actually pick up here at Valley International Airport. Before they were able to drop off, so they would drive all the way here and then they would dead end back. Now they can just enter our cab line here. It allows us to have a better taxi cab service.”

Asked about an improved shuttle service between VIA and SPI, Esterly said:

“We are working closely with the Island on a shuttle service. We have three companies at this point that we are watering, like a flower they are coming out. A brand new service with really nice vehicles. We are really happy to continue to work with them to get this thing going.”

In his in-depth interview, Esterly also spoke about VIA revamping its Federal Inspection Station in order to accommodate Customs and Border Protection staff.

“We had a general aviation FIS facility. We needed a conventional FIS facility. We had a conventional FIS facility in this building but it was not up to the new standards that are required. So, about a year or so ago, we started a lot of renovations on the facility and bringing it up to the new CBP standards.”

Esterly said if the renovation work hard started a week later than it did, the airport would not have been ready for Viva Aerobus’ first flight from Monterrey.

“Boy, I tell you, if we had waited a week later we might not have made it. At least for a May 6 departure. We are super happy with Aerobus, they such great partners. They will be flying jet service to the Rio Grande Valley, for the first time, I believe, since somewhere back in the ‘80s and we are super-excited about it.” 

Esterly has been working to get regular passenger flights to and from Mexico for many years. His college Jose Mulet, even longer.

“Out of all the goals we set, we could not have imagined this is one we were going to reach. There were definitely a lot of challenges involved. We were super happy we got here. If we can knock this one off the table we can knock some of the other difficult ones of the table as well,” Esterly said, in reference to bringing in Viva Aerobus.

“Viva Aerobus is watching their loads very closely and they have added additional flights. Some of that will help with connections. I know a lot of people want to connect in Monterrey for Cancun. Starting May 11, Tuesday,Wednesday ,Thursday, Friday and Sunday. In talking to Viva Aerobus they are looking to totally revamping their schedule, so expect good things in the future.”

The revamped schedule is being made to ensure there are not long layovers in Mexico.

“When you fly to Houston you want to be able to connect within an hour or so and not have a big layover. Great connections to Mexico City, great connections to Guadalajara, and good connections to Cancun. We just want to improve on those connections. Hopefully we will be able to grow this service to other non-stop destinations with Viva in the future,” Esterly said.

Asked about the importance Viva Aerobus’ service is to the City of Harlingen’s and Harlingen Economic Development Corporation’s stated goal of bringing in more business in from Mexico, Esterly said:

“There is no doubt that good air service drives the economy. In trying to attract new businesses to the area, the more service you have, particularly to a city like Monterrey, where there is a lot of cross-border business, and Monterrey is probably one of the biggest business cities in Mexico, having that connection here and being able to get passengers back and forth, business passengers back and forth, easily, will make a huge difference.”

Asked if he had any more information for potential air travelers in the Rio Grande Valley, Esterly said: “Use it or lose it. If you lose it is hard to get it back.” In other words, take advantage of all the new services being offered at VIA.

Esterly said the recent trends look good. He said there is huge pent up demand for air travel, as local residents want to throw off the shackles caused by COVID-19.

“There is no doubt, the pent up demand of people is there. They got their vaccines, they want to get out and they want to see friends and family. They want to go to the beach. They want to go vacation,” Esterly said.

“We are seeing that with all our flights here at Valley International Airport. We are seeing capacity being put back in the market and yet our load factors for most of our carriers are above 90 percent. It is amazing to see people get back. It is exciting to see people get back. We have to get on with our lives. It is time.”

Esterly closed the interview by stating as he has many times before, that VIA is safe to visit.”

“We have changed our whole cleaning procedures and policies and don’t intend to go back,” he said “I have always been a stickler. I want a nice, clean-smelling terminal building. Disinfecting, the way we are doing now, and protecting our passengers from others, the barriers we have at the checkpoint line are not just good for COVID, they are good for flu and other types of transmittable diseases. It is important and I think a lot of airports have learned the importance of making sure the passengers feel safe and are safe.”

Editor’s Note: This story is dedicated to the late Dominic Salvador Consiglio, marketing and ground handling manager at Valley International Airport. Dominic passed away May 7, 2021, at aged 41. May he Rest In Peace.

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