Commercial passenger air service coming back

Port Angeles flights to start this summer

PORT ANGELES — After a seven-year hiatus, a start-up airline will return commercial air service to William R. Fairchild International Airport, its efforts backed by federal and Port of Port Angeles funding.

By this summer, Tukwila-based Dash Air Shuttle, Inc., will offer four daily flights to and from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SeaTac) on nine-passenger aircraft, company co-founder Clint Ostler said in an interview Tuesday.

“We’ve been studying this for quite a while, so we’re excited to jump in.”

Ostler said one-way tickets will range from $79 to $159 based mainly on seating availability with an average price of $97 to $100.

Tentative plans call for Port Angeles passengers to disembark at SeaTac’s Signature Flight Services terminal and be shuttled to the main terminal for check-in, a 10-minute ride, Ostler said.

Dash is considering operating single-pilot, twin-engine Cessna 402 or Piper Chieftain aircraft but plans to change to lower-cost electric-propulsion aircraft within five years, Ostler said.

The company has been started by employees of Embark Aviation, a Washington, D.C.-based airline management consulting company that will manage Dash, said Ostler, a vice president of Embark.

“Dash is a totally separate business from Embark,” he said.

Ostler said a flight schedule had not been determined as of Tuesday but that planes will disembark from Port Angeles early morning, mid-day, late afternoon and evening, with times based to a large extent on departures and arrivals of Delta Airlines and Alaska Airlines.

“After a quick 30-minute flight to SeaTac, locals and visitors alike will have access to over 115 unique non-stop cities beyond Seattle,” Ostler said in a press release.

More than a dozen airlines have been contacted in failed efforts to revive air service since Kenmore Air shut down operations in 2014 at the port-owned airport, port Airport Manager Dan Gase said Tuesday.

Dash was the only company to reach out with interest in starting up service, he said.

Ostler’s 1 p.m. announcement was preceded by a revenue guarantee of $333,000 from the port that commissioners awarded at their 9 a.m. meeting.

The funds consist of $133,000 in port general funds and $200,000 from the U.S. Department of Transportation Small Community Air Service Development Program.

Commissioners also decided to waive $18,104 in annual landing fees and $1,710 in annual rent.

Counter fees also will be waived, and free parking will be available for passengers.

The port’s Federal Aviation Administration $150,000 annual allotment for airport operations would increase to $1 million if annual emplanements surpass 10,000.

“I would be more than happy to give $133,000 to get a million,” port board President Steven Burke said.

“I’ll do that every day of the week.”

An average of 28 emplanements a day for a year would surpass 10,000.

At the height of air service at Fairchild, there were 147 emplanements a day, Gase said.

Commissioner Connie Beauvais said restarting air service has been one of the port’s highest priorities.

She noted pilot availability was no longer an issue for starting up service that was shut down when Kenmore Air, citing fuel costs and low ridership, eliminated its remaining two flights.

“Getting all of this together and seeing what this company has put together and is going to be able to offer, I have a very positive feeling about this,” Beauvais said.

Commercial passenger service “is so badly needed to grow our economy and make the quality of life in our county better,” Commissioner Colleen McAleer said.

“I’m excited to have this opportunity for our port but more so for our community.”

Burke said some airlines were tired of hearing from port staff who have been reaching out to potential airlines for years.

“People ask me how you get good stuff done in our community, and I always tell them it’s tenacity, and I think that describes our staff well,” he said.

“Just a dog with a bone, going after, going after, going after.

“I would have thought, in our current state, it would be further away from air service, not closer.”

Gase said Dash will be reimbursed monthly by having port officials draw from the $330,000 revenue guarantee for any seats Dash cannot fill to break even, with that money coming first out of the port’s $133,000 match.

“If nobody rides, all that money will be gone in 2½ months, but hopefully, they have good marketing plans and good ridership and it lasts more than a year,” Gase said.

“If they are profitable really quick, we may not have to use a lot of that money, but chances are we will,” he said.

Gase said in his report to commissioners that an eight-seat aircraft filled to 75 percent capacity for four daily flights would generate $3 million to the region annually, according to the state Department of Transportation’s Airport Economic Impact Calculator.

Marc Abshire, executive director of the Port Angeles Chamber of Commerce, said renewed air service is another sign of the area digging out of the 2007-09 Great Recession.

“The local economy is really coming back strong, with lots of development in the downtown area, but also everything with the new Boys & Girls Club to Shore Aquatic Center, and passing the capital levy for the schools, and multimillions of dollars in private money being invested in Port Angeles,” he said.

“We really welcome this service.

“It looks really strong in terms of all the planning for it and the business model. These people seem to know what they’re doing. They are doing this around the country for other airlines.”

Ostler will be the featured guest at the chamber’s virtual public meeting at 11 a.m. May 5.

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Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].

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