Passenger airline inquires about providing Port Angeles service

By James Casey, March 24, 2015, Peninsula Daily News

At least one passenger air carrier has asked about restarting service to the North Olympic Peninsula, Port of Port Angeles officials learned Tuesday.


SeaPort Airlines of Portland, Ore., not only has expressed an interest in flying between here and Seattle, officials plan to visit William R. Fairchild International Airport in Port Angeles in June for an on-site inspection.


Ben Munson of Forecast Inc., the consultant who is building an air service market study for the port, said SeaPort flies the same commuter-style single-engine planes that Kenmore Air flew between Seattle and Port Angeles until it stopped service in November.


Unlike Kenmore, SeaPort’s service would connect with Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, not Boeing Field.


The Port of Seattle earlier this month waived up to $225,000 landing fees per plane per year for flights from rural airports without scheduled service.


The waiver would last two years.


Munson said Forecast had been approached by SeaPort, which started service as Wings of Alaska out of Juneau in 1982 but now serves cities in Oregon, California, Mexico, Texas and the central Southern states.


Forecast will provide other carriers with market data. They include Alaska Airlines, Kenmore Air, Delta Air Lines, and PenAir, an Anchorage-based carrier that also flies from Massachusetts to New York.


Alaska and Delta fly twin-engine Bombardier Q-400 turboprops that carry 76 passengers. PenAir operates 34-passenger, twin-engine turboprop Saab 340s. SeaPort and Kenmore fly nine-seat Cessna Caravans.


The types of aircraft and how many passengers they carry are key to how frequently a carrier would fly out of Fairchild, Munson said, adding that larger planes also aren’t grounded so often by fog that grounded Kenmore about 10 days a year.


Relatively few people who rode Kenmore went no farther than Seattle, Munson said, but took shuttles to Sea-Tac to board flights to Los Angeles, San Francisco, Denver, Phoenix, New York City and Minneapolis.


Although Alaska Airlines operates about half the present passenger traffic at Sea-Tac, Munson said, it carries only 23 percent of the passengers from the Peninsula, with the remainder divided among Alaska, United, Southwest and Delta.


That, said Munson, might spur Alaska to add service to Port Angeles through its sister carrier, Horizon Air — especially if it wants to counter a major expansion of destinations and flights that Delta is providing.


Horizon Air once provided air service for passengers from Port Angeles.


Projected passenger rates from Port Angeles compare well with service in Walla Walla — currently the smallest Alaska Airlines serves, he said — with one or two flights a day.


Munson said the study’s “catchment area” spans the Peninsula from Port Angeles about 50 miles eastward and westward. The Peninsula’s most frequent fliers, he said, hail from Sequim.


Others fly from Port Angeles and Port Townsend, with some from the Miller Peninsula.


Relatively few come from Forks or points west, Munson said.


Forecast’s “true market demand estimate” predicts 147 passengers could fly to Sea-Tac and beyond each day with an average fare of $253 — including distant connections — and total potential revenue of $27.2 million.


“This is a number that’s promising,” he said.


Based on a fully booked Q400, each passenger would cost an airline about $50.


Even if a large carrier served Port Angeles, passengers might have to repeat baggage check-in and security screening once at Sea-Tac, Munson said, although SeaPort had what he called a “seamless” transition through security.


Forecast’s next two tasks will be to develop an air service plan for Port Angeles, then to develop carrier-specific proposals and route analyses it will present to airlines the week of April 13.


Eventually, Munson said, the port and its partners like Clallam County and the city of Port Angeles must commit to marketing scheduled air service, touting among other things the savings of driving to Seattle and parking and perhaps staying there.


Port Commissioner Jim Hallett asked Munson, “Do you mean we can make the case that a scheduled airline can be viable here?”


“Absolutely,” Munson answered.


“Outside factors with a buildup of Delta in Seattle is increasing competition that would make a Port Angeles connection attractive.”


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