Dash Air to pursue a public charter

Model would change from commercial service

PORT ANGELES — Dash Air Shuttle has ended its quest to obtain certification for intrastate air service and is now pursuing authorization to operate as a public charter operator, President Clint Ostler said.

The change, Ostler said Thursday, stems from a complaint Kenmore Air lodged with the U.S. Department of Transportation in 2022 against Dash Air regarding the scope of its operations.

“We obviously disputed that,” Ostler said. “But the DOT told us they were not going to recognize Dash as an intrastate carrier. They told us to be able to move forward, you either have to become an airline or you have to become a public charter operator.”

A public charter operator contracts with an air carrier to operate a flight or series of flights and then sells the seats to the public. Ostler said Dash Air would engage Backcountry Aviation to provide flight service, which it was already prepared to do had Dash Air had received intrastate authorization. Dash Air could contract with other aircraft operators, as well.

Passengers would not notice the difference between the two different modes of operation, Ostler said.

“Seats on the charters are like a regular scheduled flight,” Ostler said. “If you go and book a ticket, it looks just like you’re booking a regular ticket on a regular airline.”

But first, Dash Air must raise the $200,000 needed for a surety bond the DOT requires to become a public charter operator.

“You have to jump through several more hoops, and some of them are financial loops that are designed to ensure that the consumer is protected from anything that might go wrong,” Ostler said.

Unlike a regularly scheduled airline whose revenues go into its operating account, public charter operators must set up an escrow account to receive payments they receive, such as fares. It cannot withdraw any funds from the account until the carrier — Backcountry Air, for example — is paid first and after all landing and other airport fees are paid.

Re-establishing air service at William R. Fairchild International Airport has been a part of the Port of Port Angeles’ strategic plan since 2016. The city has been without regularly scheduled air service to Seattle since Kenmore suspended its flights to Boeing Field in 2014.

Dash Air announced its intention to begin regularly scheduled air service between Port Angeles and Seattle-Tacoma International Airport on April 27, 2021, with the first flights taking off that fall. The plan was for it to be the marketing and ticketing agent with Backcountry Aviation as the carrier.

The takeoff date kept getting pushed further back as Dash Air encountered delays related to the Kenmore Air complaint, a dispute over its name, problems obtaining Federal Aviation Administration operating certification and DOT economic certification.

Last fall, Dash Air began offering private charter flights as a stopgap until it could implement regular service. That put it in competition with other air service providers at Fairchild, like Rite Bros., which was established in 1981 and operates charter flights, provides flight lessons and offers scenic flights.

Rite Bros., however, paid the port’s standard rates for rent and landing fees. In the lease with Dash Air, port commissioners approved waiving $2,220 in monthly charges, including terminal rent and landing fees, and had two one-year extensions.

When Dash Air’s lease with the port expired Jan. 8, the port changed the lease to a month-to-month agreement with $339.49 in monthly charges and reinstituted the $15 landing fee.

“[The lease] was revised to reflect its activities as a charter rather than as an airline with scheduled flights,” said Caleb McMahon, the port’s director of economic development. “I put them on the same price as everybody else at the airport so we can make sure that everybody’s the same.”

The lease will revert to the former agreement with the waived charges once Dash Air stops offering private charter service and starts providing the scheduled air service outlined in its agreement with the port.

By definition, however, public charter operations — the authorization Dash Air is now seeking — are not considered scheduled flights by the FAA.

Being a public charter operator does give Dash Air flexibility it would not have had as an intrastate carrier, Ostler said.

“The good news is that now we can fly anywhere we want,” Ostler said. “We can fly to Oregon, we can fly to Seattle, we can fly to Idaho.”

Once Dash Air raises $200,000 for the security bond, Ostler said time would be needed to assemble a prospectus and submit it to the DOT. Add another three to four weeks for the DOT to approve the application, and then four to five more weeks after that to build reservations. After that, flights could commence.

Paul Jarkiewicz, the port’s executive director, said the agency had renewed its application for a grant from the Small Community Air Service Development Program that helps small communities address the challenge of maintaining local air service. The funds are not earmarked for any specific carrier, Jarkiewicz said.

The port received $200,000 in SCASDP funding in 2016. In 2021, it used those funds and a $133,000 port match to create a minimum revenue guarantee as an incentive for an airline to institute and maintain passenger service to Port Angeles.

The port awarded Dash Air the $330,000 minimum revenue guarantee in 2021.

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Reporter Paula Hunt can be reached by email at paula.hunt@peninsuladailynews.com.

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