Port of Port Angeles official: Trees obstructing airport to stay for some time, but commercial airline would be unfazed

By Paul Gottlieb, May 1, 2015, Peninsula Daily News

Trees in a city park that obstruct aircraft landings at William R. Fairchild International Airport will remain standing — and growing — until at least mid-2017.


But that should not deter a commercial airline from providing passenger service at the airport, Jerry Ludke, airport and marinas manager for the Port of Port Angeles, which owns the facility, said Thursday.


Ludke said such a service could operate despite the tall trees.


The port needs a firm offer of air service within the next 30 to 45 days in order to provide air service by December, Ludke told a Clallam County Economic Development Council worried about when commercial air passenger service will resume at Fairchild after a five-month hiatus.


Ludke was updating the EDC on nearby Lincoln Park’s tall trees and the port’s efforts to revive airline service.


He said Thursday that as the trees have grown, the port has had to shrink the approach to the main 6,350-foot runway by 21 percent to 5,000 feet.


He said those trees — beloved by some city residents opposed to eliminating them — wouldn’t be cut for at least two to 2½ years.


The Port Angeles City Council has the final say on what is done with the Lincoln Park trees and has not voted on the issue.


An environmental assessment of potential tree-cutting at Lincoln Park still must be conducted, Ludke added.


Airline service vanished in November with the departure of the airport’s single scheduled airline, Kenmore Air.


The company was beleaguered by low ridership from Port Angeles to Boeing Field, where Kenmore offered shuttle service to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.


Olympic Medical Center CEO Eric Lewis, an EDC board member, asked how big an issue the obstructive trees were to attracting new passenger carriers.


“Five thousand feet for the next two years is not a problem, but down the road, it will be,” Ludke responded.


City Councilman Brad Collins, also an EDC board member, noted that while the City Council has yet to vote on tree removal — the focus of numerous citizens’ objections at council meetings — the panel does favor cutting individual trees if they need to be removed.


“The city would certainly give its support on that,” Collins said.


In a later interview, he elaborated on that pledge.


“I believe there are sufficient votes on the council to work on the removal of individual trees if it were to affect the landing of airplanes,” he said.


Ludke told the EDC that service from potential airlines could include flights to Portland [Ore.] International Airport by SeaPort Airlines of Portland, as well as by Alaska Airlines through its sister carrier, Horizon, to Sea-Tac.


It’s possible both airlines could fly out of Fairchild, Ludke said in a later interview.


He told the EDC that Horizon could fly a 76-passenger aircraft to Sea-Tac beginning with one daily round-trip, while SeaPort would fly more flights to Portland offering smaller nine-seat Cessna Caravans favored by Kenmore.


Ludke said if air service resumes, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) would have to establish security-screening at Fairchild because planes would land directly at an international airport.


Ludke said 6th District Rep. and Port Angeles native Derek Kilmer’s help would be needed to secure TSA service.


Kilmer’s Port Angeles aide, Judith Morris, was at Thursday’s meeting.


“Derek is very aware of the airport and of the airport’s TSA issue and very supportive,” she said in a later interview.


“We can’t really pursue it until an airline has committed, but we know.”


Ludke said the airline industry consulting firm Forecast Inc. of Denver and Seattle is conducting an air-service market study for the port covering a 45-mile radius around Port Angeles — and not including the West End.


“Well, we fly,” responded EDC board member Linda Dillard of the Clallam Bay-Sekiu Chamber of Commerce.


“We are the customers who use it because we always have an hour to come [to Port Angeles] to get somewhere.”


Forecast has predicted there would be 147 passengers per day each way to and from Sea-Tac within the 45-mile radius.


The firm will present its findings to the port commission May 12 on a heavily subsidized, two-year airline incentive package that involves community marketing support, landing and terminal fee waivers at Fairchild and Sea-Tac and letters of support from community leaders.


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