By James Casey, January 28, 2015, Peninsula Daily News
Many in Clallam County may be clamoring for scheduled passenger airline service, but where and how often do people really want to fly?
The Port of Port Angeles will pay up to $50,000 to find out, the port’s three commissioners decided Tuesday, even as they try to persuade Seattle-Tacoma International Airport to slash landing fees for flights from here and other rural communities.
In the meantime, commissioners will try to ensure that the runways at William R. Fairchild International Airport in Port Angeles can handle the small- to medium-size aircraft that would provide such service.
Kenmore Air, which had provided the only scheduled passenger air service on the North Olympic Peninsula, quit serving Port Angeles with flights to Seattle’s Boeing Field on Nov. 14, citing low ridership and high costs.
Kenmore’s eight- and nine-seat planes landed at Boeing Field, and passengers were shuttled to Sea-Tac.
Commissioner Colleen McAleer quoted officials at Westport Shipyard as telling her, “We need scheduled air service again.”
The same sentiment, she said, came from other companies that need airline service to grow — or keep from shrinking.
End of June
Forecast Inc. of Denver will finish the port’s Air Service Market Demand Study by the end of June.
Funds for the forecast will come from port contingency funds.
It will gather information on three questions. They are:
■ Potential air customers’ top 15 destinations and the fares they would pay.
■ What services would be compliant with Federal Aviation Administration requirements.
■ Average fare forecasts for specific airlines, aircraft and schedule combinations, not only to Sea-Tac but for other destinations.
A given carrier might not even serve Sea-Tac or Boeing Field, said port airport manager Jerry Ludke, but could fly into Bellingham or Portland International Airport in Oregon.
The latter already is the choice of some West End residents who find it easier to reach than Sea-Tac, said Commissioner John Calhoun.
Commissioner Jim Hallett said he hoped the survey would produce a choice among at least three airlines.
Carriers that have been mentioned in Sea-Tac’s landing-fee reductions include Delta (via Skywest), Alaska, Kenmore, United Express and SeaPort Airlines of Portland.
The vagaries of what destinations potential fliers might choose could be determined by the various carriers.
“They know the ZIP codes of everywhere they’re going,” said port Executive Director Ken O’Hollaren, and can forecast how many people currently travel by road to Sea-Tac to board an airplane.
Meanwhile, the Port of Seattle, which owns Sea-Tac, will consider waiving up to $225,000 per year for each daily flight serving Port Angeles, Pullman, Walla Walla, Wenatchee and Yakima, McAleer said.
She met with Sea-Tac officials Monday and cautioned that “this process has not completely occurred yet” but was well into the discussion phase.
“Getting the right aircraft, getting the right carrier, is key to that,” she said.
Airline boosters also should tout the savings of gasoline, greenhouse gases and Sea-Tac parking fees by flying from Port Angeles, plus the possibility of flying beyond Seattle.
Calhoun said the port was taking the lead on behalf of all Clallam County for restoring air service but that other private and public agencies must participate, perhaps by establishing a “ticket bank” of guaranteed air fares.
“We could potentially spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on capital improvements to try to get air service back,” said McAleer, only to have the carrier quit after several months.
“We can’t allow that to happen,” she said.
Communities like Sequim and Forks also must be willing to pay part of the cost, if not in money, then in “meaningful data so they can feed into this process,” McAleer said.
Just what carrier could fly, and what kind of aircraft they would use, also could prove crucial, commissioners said, especially planes small enough to land in the mile of runway required for small jets like the Cessna Citation or the turboprop Bombardier Q400.
Smaller aircraft could prove better, McAleer said, in meeting the 70 percent load factor required by the Sea-Tac fee waivers.