Port commissioner: Passenger airline expresses interest in Port Angeles

By James Casey, March 11, 2015, Peninsula Daily News

This time, it just might fly.


At least one passenger airline has expressed “an absolute interest” in connecting Port Angeles with Seattle, a Port of Port Angeles commissioner said Wednesday.


“There is absolute interest, especially now that the costs have gone down,” Colleen McAleer said.


McAleer spoke after the Port of Seattle waived up to $225,000 in annual ground fees for each daily flight between William R. Fairchild International Airport and Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.


Seattle port officials Tuesday unanimously extended their Small Community Scheduled Air Service Incentive Program to carriers connecting Sea-Tac with airports that currently lack scheduled passenger service in Washington state, Oregon and Idaho.


Port of Port Angeles commissioners will receive a report on the decision when they meet at 9 a.m. today at port headquarters, 138 W. First St.


Port Angeles lost its scheduled service Nov. 14 when Kenmore Air stopped flying from Fairchild to Seattle’s Boeing Field and shuttling passengers to Sea-Tac.


The airline cited low ridership and high costs.


McAleer refused to name a carrier interested in serving Port Angeles, and Ken O’Hollaren, Port of Port Angeles executive director, declined to confirm her statement.


But McAleer said, “We are going to be working with multiple carriers to determine which provider has the interest and the type of service to meet the demand that exists in Clallam County.”


The Port of Seattle will waive landing fees, gate and lobby fees, and ticket-counter rental fees for carriers using Sea-Tac for up to two years.


The fees total about $225,000 for a Bombardier Q400 turboprop that carries 76 passengers and is flown by Horizon (Alaska) and United Express, both of which have been approached about serving Port Angeles, McAleer said.


Other carriers that have been mentioned as possible carriers to serve Fairchild include Skywest, Kenmore and SeaPort Airlines of Portland, Ore.


The fees would be adjusted downward for aircraft like the nine-seat Cessna Grand Caravan with which Kenmore Air served Port Angeles.


“It really depends on the number of seats, the weight of the aircraft, all sort of different items that go into those calculations,” McAleer said.


The Port of Port Angeles currently is studying Clallam County’s potential for air passenger service through a consulting contract with Forecast Inc. of Denver. The survey could cost up to $50,000.


“It will provide the air carriers with information about what the demand is here” McAleer said.


The key to luring air service back to Fairchild will be reliable ridership, she said.


Port officials have floated the idea of a “ticket bank” through which companies and local government agencies could buy air fares.


Port Angeles City Council members Dan Gase and Cherie Kidd, former mayor, joined Port of Port Angeles officials at Tuesday’s presentation in Seattle.


Another important facet will be marketing both the cost and convenience of flying to Seattle, McAleer said.


With parking costing $12 a day at Sea-Tac and gasoline nudging $3 a gallon again, flying could seem more attractive, she said.


So could the convenience of going through Transportation Security Administration screening at Fairchild instead of Sea-Tac, McAleer said.


As for flight frequency, “I would rather see three flights a day on a smaller aircraft than one flight a day on a larger aircraft,” she said, saying such an arrangement had “more viability.”


Overarching cost and convenience, however, is continuity, McAleer said.


Kenmore provided the only scheduled air passenger service to the North Olympic Peninsula starting in 2004, when it took over service from Horizon Air.


San Juan Airlines flew from Fairchild to Boeing Field in 2003-04. It replaced Harbor Air, which went out of business in 2001.


Currently, Rite Bros. Aviation provides charter air service from Fairchild to Sea-Tac; Dungeness Line operates buses between Port Angeles and Sea-Tac via Sequim, Port Townsend, Kingston and Edmonds; and Rocket Transportation provides door-to-door service in vans.


“I want to make sure we get the best-suited partner for our community for many years,” said McAleer, “not just two.


“I want to ensure we create a strong community support for it so that we don’t have an airline for two years and then it goes away.”

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