PORT ANGELES — An absence of commercial air passenger service on the North Olympic Peninsula that stretches back to Thanksgiving 2014 could end May 1 under a $160, one-way-ticket plan to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and Boeing Field that was offered Thursday by a Vancouver, Wash.-based air-shuttle company.
Three Zephyr Air corporate officers made their pitch to about 20 mostly enthusiastic business people in the long-silent passenger terminal building restaurant at the Port of Port Angeles’ William R. Fairchild International Airport.
Zephyr President Jack Permison offered to restart commercial passenger service at Fairchild with six-seater Piper PA-46 Malibu aircraft that hold five passengers and luggage — 1,300 pounds including the pilot — if Port commissioners give them a revenue guarantee.
Director of Finance John Nutter said port commissioners will discuss using the $200,000 federal Department of Transportation Small Community Air Service Development Program revenue guarantee for Zephyr’s proposal at the commissioners’ meeting at 1 p.m. Tuesday at the Port administrative building, 338 W. First St., Port Angeles.
The guarantee would make up the difference of any losses of up to $200,000 under Zephyr’s projected minimum revenue that would be generated by providing the service.
The projected revenue will be determined in negotiation between Zephyr and the federal DOT.
But he also said he did not want to get the community’s hopes up too much, that there still were hurdles to clear, and that if only one or two passengers are taking the flights on a regular basis, then the plan won’t work.
This would be Zephyr’s first commercial passenger service, he said.
Both Port Angeles Regional Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Marc Abshire and Port Angeles Downtown Association board President Young Johnson expressed support for the plan, as did Nutter.
“They appear to have a viable model,” Nutter said, noting that 11 airlines have expressed interest in providing service but none have followed through.
“We are ready to pull the trigger,” he said of the $200,000 guarantee.
“We are finding ourselves, from the port’s perspective, [that] beggars can’t be choosers.”
Tickets would cost $160 one way and $320 round-trip to cover the cost of operations, Permison said.
There would be four round-trips weekly from Fairchild to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and four round-trips weekly from Fairchild to Boeing Field with one morning and one evening flight at times that would be determined by the community, Permison said.
Round trips would be twice daily Monday and Friday to and from Sea-Tac and twice daily Tuesday and Thursday to and from Boeing Field, where vehicle shuttle service would be provided to Sea-Tac and back to Boeing Field.
“What does the community want, that’s what we’re going to set our schedule at,” Permison said in a later interview. “As demand grows, we will increase it from there.”
All passengers going to Sea-Tac would be required to go through Transportation Security Administration screening at Sea-Tac.
“The only thing we need is approval from the port,” Permison said of the revenue guarantee.
“We are shooting for a May 1 startup.”
He explained in a later interview that he also needs financing to purchase aircraft that is contingent on obtaining the guarantee.
“Once we get the agreement, we’ll get the financing,” he said.
The federal Department of Transportation also needs to approve the routes.
Zephyr is considering providing service to six communities, one of whom is in the running with Port Angeles for more immediate service, though Permison would not name any of the suitors.
One woman said the ticket price was too steep, noting that ground vehicle transportation was far cheaper.
A one-way ticket at $160 “boots me out of the category,” she said.
“I will stay with Rocket Transportation,” she added, noting round-trip tickets via the door-to-door van service cost her $114.
Some participants also said earlier and later departures from Fairchild were needed to accommodate more Sea-Tac departure times.
“You tell us what you want, and we will make it happen,” he told Doug Sellon, interim executive director of the Clallam County Economic Development Corp.
Olympic Medical Center CEO Eric Lewis said it would be easier to recruit doctors by flying them to the area instead of having them drive from Sea-Tac, while Peninsula College President Luke Robins said he and Lewis also would find it more convenient for legislative sessions in Olympia.
They joined Johnson in noting that the convenience of a half-hour flight to Sea-Tac compared to a three-hour one-way drive that also entailed food and gas expenditures helped cancel out the extra expense incurred by a $160 one-way ticket.
“When you are looking at six hours plus the meals and all, that really doesn’t seem so bad.”
The smaller aircraft that Zephyr would fly are more suitable for smaller communities such as Port Angeles, Permison said.
He said Zephyr was matching its Piper Malibu aircraft capacity of five passengers with the five to six seats that Kenmore said it filled on its Caravans.
Under a schedule presented at the meeting as a proposal that Permison said later was merely an example, on their designated days, flights would leave Sea-Tac and Boeing Field at 7 a.m., and arrive at Fairchild at 7:30 a.m.
Passengers would leave Fairchild at 8 a.m. and arrive at Sea-Tac or Boeing Field at 8:30 a.m.
On those same designated days, they would leave Sea-Tac and Boeing Field at 3 p.m. and arrive at Fairchild at 3:30 p.m.
They would leave Fairchild at 4 p.m. and arrive at Sea-Tac and Boeing field at 4:30 p.m.
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].