A 1968 Cessna 182L lands at Fairchild International Airport in Port Angeles on Wednesday. The Port of Port Angeles is working to secure commercial air service. (Jesse Major/Peninsula Daily News)

Officials: Federal program for air service unlikely for Port Angeles

PORT ANGELES — It would take either an act of God or an act of Congress for commercial air service to return to Port Angeles, Port of Port Angeles Commissioner Steve Burke said when he announced his candidacy for the port in April.

Now an act of Congress seems unlikely as U.S. Rep Derek Kilmer’s office has made it clear the federal Essential Air Service program wasn’t an option, port officials said.

It’s a federal program that subsidizes airlines providing airline service to rural communities, but the federal government prohibits any airports that had non-subsidized airline service in October 2012 from benefiting from the program.

Kenmore Air, which flew between Port Angeles and Boeing Field in Seattle, was operating at that time but pulled out in November 2014, citing decreasing ridership and revenues and increasing costs after 10 years of service.

“This Congress and this President has not listened to the call to support jobs and opportunities in rural areas,” Kilmer said in a statement.

“In his budget, President [Donald] Trump has proposed to completely eliminate the Essential Air Service Program while Congress continues to leave a needed reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration in limbo.”

Burke, disappointed that the EAS program isn’t an option, said Wednesday the port should look toward an “out-of-the-box” solution at the state level.

He said some states are using aviation fuel taxes to help fund commercial air service, an idea he believes could bring commercial air service to Seattle back to Port Angeles.

“All it takes is one good idea, like the aviation fuel tax, to save it,” he said. “It’s going to take a creative idea like that.”

The port has heard from 20-some aviation companies that unsubsidized commercial air service will not be viable in Port Angeles, Burke said.

“The port will continue to look for opportunities to provide air service,” said John Nutter, director of finance and administration for the port. “Essential Air Service would have been a great way for that to happen, but it does not appear that it’s feasible.”

Nutter said legislation that would make Port Angeles eligible for the EAS program is off the table “according to Congressman Kilmer’s office.”

The port’s lobbyist Bruce Beckett said in a port meeting Monday that he and port Executive Director Karen Goschen had a conference call with Kilmer’s office recently.

When the topic of the EAS program came up, it was clear Port Angeles is “not going to get eligible in any quick time frame,” Beckett said.

“Derek’s staff didn’t feel that was going to be a fruitful avenue to pursue,” he said. “I don’t have any reasons to argue against it.”

Goschen said it’s difficult for Kilmer’s staff to put effort into something they don’t think they will be successful with.

Nutter said the port is still working with any airline that is willing to return staff’s calls.

Since Kenmore left, the port has talked with 13 airlines. It was recently working on a proposal from Zephyr Air, though the limited flights and high ticket prices drew heavy criticism.

Zephyr presented the proposal in February but backed out after it was clear the port could have lost a $200,000 grant intended to subsidize an airline providing daily service from Fairchild International Airport to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

Nutter said the port has not heard from Zephyr, adding the company is focused on providing air service to Moses Lake.

He said the port has had limited discussions with another airline.

Kilmer said bringing commercial flights back to Fairchild International Airport is a priority for people on the Olympic Peninsula and for himself.

“I’m going to fight for a better approach so we can have good jobs on the Olympic Peninsula,” he said. “Challenges remain, but I’m committed to working with anyone — Democrat or Republican — that will help move their needle toward leveling the playing field for rural communities.”

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Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at jmajor@peninsuladailynews.com.