A corporate jet taxis for takeoff at William R. Fairchild International Airport in this 2006 photo. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)

A corporate jet taxis for takeoff at William R. Fairchild International Airport in this 2006 photo. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)

Port of Port Angeles in talks with airline for passenger service

PORT ANGELES — Port of Port Angeles officials are discussing proposal terms with an airline that could offer passenger flights to and from Boeing Field with ancillary shuttle service to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, Port Executive Director Karen Goschen said Tuesday.

Port officials keep plugging away at trying to bring back to Fairchild International Airport the only commercial passenger service on the North Olympic Peninsula after a hiatus of more than two years, she said at the Port Angeles Business Association’s weekly breakfast meeting.

“It’s been a long, hard struggle,” Goschen told about three dozen participants.

“A constant theme you hear is there is a concern about what is the cost to operate and what our market will bear as far as ticket price.”

Goschen updated local entrepreneurs on the port’s 2017 outlook Tuesday and described the challenges faced by seeking direct service to Sea-Tac, a goal ever since Kenmore Air, which provided service to Sea-Tac via Boeing Field, departed in November 2014.

In a later interview, Goschen compared one-way ticket prices for potential service to Boeing Field versus service directly to Sea-Tac, where passengers would still have to go through Transportation Security Administration screening before proceeding to their departure gates.

“I think we are looking at closer to $100 to Boeing Field and over $150 to Sea-Tac,” Goschen said.

“We have to put Boeing Field on the table,” she said.

Finding an airline to provide commercial passenger service from Fairchild to Sea-Tac has proved daunting for port officials, Goschen said.

Alaska-Horizon, SeaPort and Mokulele are among the 11 airline companies that port officials contacted in 2016.

The port offered about $500,000 in incentives including landing-fee waivers at Fairchild and Sea-Tac, marketing money and revenue guarantees.

The port’s efforts fell victim to competition from other markets, one company going bankrupt and widespread concerns about financial feasibility.

There is some hope on the horizon, Goschen said.

One suitor Goschen did not name approached the port in spring 2016 and might consider this winter starting up service but has not entered talks with the port.

Another airline she did not identify whose focus is in rural communities contacted port officials last fall, toured Fairchild in December and is discussing terms of a potential arrangement to provide service.

The airline would go to Sea-Tac but prefers Boeing Field, which would cost the company $40 less than flying directly into Sea-Tac, Goschen said.

That company might provide service into both Boeing Field and Sea-Tac depending on customer demand, said Jerry Ludke, airport and marina manager, in a later interview.

An airline providing service at Fairchild also must contend with competition from ground transportation.

“We are a tough community to sell to because of the price point and competition” with bus lines, Goschen said.

Goschen said challenges for potential carriers providing service to Sea-Tac include the feasibility of maintaining service after incentives are used up and the market demand for $120 to $135 one-way tickets that are about as much as the market can bear.

Goschen said it’s “a hard sell” to attract a carrier when, on average, five to six seats must be filled on a nine-seat aircraft for carriers to simply break even.

In addition, it’s unlikely that the Transportation Security Administration will screen baggage at Fairchild — as TSA did several years ago — to allow passengers direct access to their departure gates at Sea-Tac.

Port officials also are engaged in key discussions with the Federal Aviation Administration that could lead to even less activity at Fairchild.

Port officials will meet later this month with FAA officials to discuss the status of an airport master plan update that could address nearby Lincoln Park trees that are blocking sight-lines to Fairchild’s runway, Goschen said.

The FAA might require a 3,850-foot runway length at the main runway, now 6,350 feet, at Fairchild in the next four to five years, which would limit airport access for business jets that need longer landing strips but don’t fly enough into Port Angeles to warrant the FAA footing the bill for runway maintenance, Goschen said.

“What we are concerned about is losing the economic impact if the runway is shorter,” Goschen said in a later interview.

Ludke said if the runway is shorter, the FAA might not fund an environmental assessment for the tree-cutting project.

According to the port’s rough estimates, about 300 jets conducted operations, or arrived at or departed from the airport in 2015, that need at least 5,000 feet of runway, Ludke said in a later interview.

The FAA says 500 are needed to maintain the current length for what it terms “critical” aircraft such as jets, Ludke said.

The port will install cameras on the port’s main Runway 26 starting in February to record what it believes will be a more precise, and higher, number of jet aircraft, Ludke said.

“We think we can demonstrate there are more of them,” he said.

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Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at pgottlieb@peninsuladailynews.com.