PORT ANGELES — The restart of scheduled commercial air passenger service from the North Olympic Peninsula to Sea-Tac International Airport has been delayed yet again, this time until past the holiday travel season and into 2022.
Dash Air Shuttle Inc. President Clint Ostler announced the holdup Wednesday as the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) continues inspecting the first of three nine-seat Cessnas Dash wants to fly out of Fairchild International Airport in Port Angeles.
The startup company, whose operations will be fueled by up to $330,000 in federal and Port of Port Angeles revenue guarantees, had planned to initiate flights with three-aircraft service this summer and repeatedly extended the date.
The North Olympic Peninsula has been without scheduled commercial air passenger flights to Seattle since November 2014.
“As of now, we are on track to begin service later this winter,” Ostler said in a press release.
He fine-tuned the estimate in a later interview Wednesday. He predicted minimum six-seat charters could be flying out of Fairchild to destinations other than Sea-Tac by early January.
That depends on the FAA certifying that first used Cessna 402c multi-engine aircraft.
Once the first plane is approved and the maintenance program passes FAA muster, the second and third plane certifications should come easier, paving the way for scheduled flights, Ostler predicted.
As far as when they start, “I’m certainly hoping it’s before March 20,” Ostler said, adding an omnipresent caveat.
“Everything we are doing now is on a really good trajectory, barring anything pandemic-related.”
The FAA, whose communications office does not return calls and emails for comment on Dash’s approval process, has been inspecting the plane, which has needed repairs, and Dash’s operations procedures for about a month, Ostler said.
“It’s been like a comedy of things,” Ostler said of the setbacks, some pandemic-related.
Dash has an FAA punch list of steps to check off and had to order parts, “then there’s the whole supply chain thing,” he said.
And finally, the company needs 45 days from when scheduled flights can begin to actually lift off from Fairchild to Sea-Tac to build up reservations.
“Now it’s the holidays, and now we’re waiting for this week to be over,” Ostler said.
“It’s just that we started pushing things further and further, so it seems like we should say, ‘OK, when do we honestly think this is going to happen?’ Let’s give a reasonable expectation of what we expect to happen.”
Scheduled flights will begin with up to four flights daily, leaving Fairchild at roughly 8:30 a.m. for the earliest departure, with a 6:30 p.m. return from Sea-Tac as the last flight of the day, Ostler said.
“A month or so later, we’ll start expanding that so we are capturing late flights.”
By April, Dash plans to add early morning departures and late-evening arrivals, and by summer, increase the schedule to six daily round-trip flights to meet anticipated demand.
“We’re trying to be really smart on how we approach it,” Ostler said.
Tickets will cost $89 to $159 one way, based on schedule and refund restrictions.
Ostler was at Fairchild Nov. 18 finalizing plans for office space and working through logistics, including hangar arrangements.
The plane being inspected by the FAA is off-site, while the other two are parked at Fairchild, Airport Manager Dan Gase said Wednesday. He was not surprised by Ostler’s announcement.
“I talked to him the other day when he was here, and I anticipated something like this,” Gase said.
“He’s frustrated with how long things are taking, but he’s not giving up. They are working hard at it.”
Officials at the Port of Port Angeles, the public taxing district that owns Fairchild, expect a continuance of the federal Department of Transportation (DOT) revenue guarantee to Dash of $200,000 and the port’s revenue guarantee of $130,000, although the DOT pledge must be renewed yearly.
“We apply for those in November, which I did,” Gase said of the $200,000 allotment.
He added he expects word on the FAA funding in December.
“They are fully aware of Dash and their plans, so we keep them pretty well informed, and they have been real supportive in our discussions, so I am very optimistic that they will extend that,” Gase said.
Port board of commissioners President Steven Burke said once Dash was unable to start service by the end of summer, he realized it would not begin until spring.
“Over the winter, it’s difficult to get the volume you really want,” Burke said of passenger numbers.
“I don’t think a delay is necessarily a bad thing. I think it’s so far out of their control of when the FAA says they are going to do something, or they just kind of react to what they FAA says,” he said.
“They are completely dependent on the FAA.”
He compared Dash to the MV Coho, Black Ball Ferry Line’s Port Angeles-to-Victoria vessel, which experiences a revenue decline during fall and winter.
“Starting from scratch is not a simple thing,” Burke added.
Ostler said charter flights will continue out of Fairchild once scheduled flights take wing.
He does not expect Dash’s service to compete with Jeff Well’s smaller-capacity Rite Bros. Aviation charter company, also headquartered at the airport.
Well said Rite Bros. will fuel Dash Air planes and do pop-up maintenance.
“I’m sure it would impact my business if all they were doing is flying [charters] to Seattle,” Well said Wednesday.
“If they are taking customers that we would normally fly and they are flying them, of course it would have an impact,” he added.
“I recognize having scheduled service is important to the community.
“I have no idea how it’s going to really play out. We just have to wait and see.”
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].