Port Angeles commercial passenger air service possible soon, officials say

Port action could end nearly seven years without flights

PORT ANGELES — Port of Port Angeles commissioners plan to take action today that could result in a resumption of passenger airline service to Seattle for the first time in nearly seven years.

Commissioners will consider approving a minimum revenue guarantee program when they meet at 9 a.m. today.

That is apparently one of the final steps in acquiring commercial passenger airline service, something that lacked on the North Olympic Peninsula since Kenmore Express stopped service on Nov. 15, 2014.

“I’ve been receiving calls every week,” said Dan Gase, the port’s airport manager, who joined the port staff in 2017. “People are really looking for this. People have been calling from all over the country trying to see how to get here” in a way that is easier than driving some 2 1/2 hours from Seattle or hiring a charter plane service.

In addition, local stakeholders and business owners have “confirmed a high level of local support and enthusiasm for service to begin,” the meeting agenda memo says.

The airline would aim for four flights daily and for 75 percent occupancy of nine-passenger planes, Gase said.

Other aspects of the service, such as cost of tickets, were not available on Monday.

Port staff has been in discussion with the unidentified airline since last July, according to the agenda.

“Port staff has reviewed the airline’s business plan and believe it to be viable and will soon be positioned to begin scheduled air service,” the memo says.

The new airline would fly directly between William R. Fairchild International Airport and Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, known as SeaTac, Gase said.

Kenmore Air Express flew to Boeing Field and provided shuttle service to SeaTac.

“It worked, but it was not the same as going to SeaTac,” Gase said.

Changes due to the COVID-19 pandemic have “freed up a little extra space up there,” he said.

SeaTac officials have been very helpful, he added.

“While COVID has had many negative effects across the country, there have also been sudden changes to the airline industry that work to an advantage for certain outlying communities,” the agenda memo says.

“One previous factor causing difficulty in attaining air service was the nationwide pilot shortage; that is no longer an issue. Another road block we faced in the past was severe crowding at SeaTac Airport; that too has changed to our benefit.”

The minimum revenue guarantee that the commission will contemplate today would provide a variety of incentives to keep an airline providing commercial passenger service.

Such a guarantee would be fueled by a $200,000 Small Community Air Service Development Program of the U.S. Department of Transportation, which is intended to help small communities maintain passenger air service. The port’s match of the grant is 40 percent, or $133,000, for a total of $333,000 available.

The port received the grant in 2016 and was granted an extension to the award on Dec. 22 for an additional one-year term ending Jan. 11, 2022.

Port staff believes the same grant would be available for another year.

Revenue guarantees are necessary because of the poor performance of the route in the past. Kenmore Air Express cited declining ridership and rising costs when it quit providing the service after 10 years operating out of Port Angeles.

Horizon Air, which preceded Kenmore, stopped service in 2014 citing annual losses of $1.5 million.

The agenda is on the port’s website at portofpa.com. To join today’s port Zoom meeting, go to https://us02web.zoom.us/j/84516202199. To listen only, call 253-215-8782. For both, use webinar ID 845 1620 2199. Public comment can be submitted by 8:30 a.m. today to braedib[email protected] or call 360-461-9515.

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Executive Editor Leah Leach can be reached at 360-417-3530 or at [email protected].

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