A Cessna 172 belonging to Rite Bros. Aviation lands at William R. Fairchild International Airport in Port Angeles on Tuesday. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)

A Cessna 172 belonging to Rite Bros. Aviation lands at William R. Fairchild International Airport in Port Angeles on Tuesday. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)

Port of Port Angeles: Grant for air service needs closer look

PORT ANGELES — The Port of Port Angeles’ effort to regain commercial air service from Port Angeles to Seattle has to overcome another hurdle before moving forward.

The port plans to check this week whether the $200,000 Small Community Air Service Development Program grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation can actually be used to support Zephyr Air, said Jerry Ludke, the port’s airport and marina manager.

“We have to straighten a few things out with the Small Community Air Service Development grant,” he said after the port’s meeting Tuesday.

Zephyr Air, a Vancouver, Wash.-based air-shuttle company, is proposing to offer $160 one-way flights to and from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and Boeing Field, with flights starting as early as May 1.

There would be four round-trips weekly from Fairchild to Sea-Tac and four round-trips weekly from Fairchild to Boeing Field, with one morning and one evening flight at times that would be determined by the community, Zephyr officials have said.

The proposal became public Thursday when three Zephyr Air officers pitched the idea to business leaders at the port’s William R. Fairchild International Airport.

The port plans to use the $200,000 Transportation Small Community Air Service Development Program grant, which was awarded in July, to make up the difference of any losses of up to $200,000 under the new airline’s projected minimum revenue.

The projected revenue will be determined in negotiations between Zephyr and the federal DOT.

When the port applied for the grant in 2014, it pitched supporting an airline with a nine-seat Caravan making four to five round trips daily, landing only at Sea-Tac — not Boeing Field.

Zephyr is proposing to take a conservative approach and scale up to meet demands, commissioners said.

Zephyr’s proposal doesn’t start with daily flights, and its plane, a Piper PA-46 Malibu aircraft, only has six seats. One of those seats is taken by the pilot.

“We have to make sure the grant folks are OK with that,” Ludke said. “We did tell them we were looking for daily service, and this will not initially be daily service.”

Ludke said he feels confident the grant can be used to support Zephyr and restore commercial air service in Port Angeles since Kenmore Air left in November 2014.

No formal action was taken, but Commissioner Steve Burke said he was “comfortable moving forward with Zephyr as our chosen air service.”

With a round-trip flight costing $320, Burke said it is clearly not intended to shorten travel times on family vacations.

“At the end of the day, this isn’t what we wanted or what we desired,” he said. “But it’s what we have.”

While costs would be out of reach for many, he said, businesses were excited and “not concerned about the price.”

What he has heard is that professionals would want more frequency, which might be needed to use the grant.

“We may need to say, ‘You have to [fly] every day for this grant,’ ” Burke said.

He also said he applauds Zephyr’s ambition and commitment. Zephyr is made up of three pilots mortgaging their homes to make an airline service, Burke said.

Commissioner Colleen McAleer said Port Angeles needs air service.

While the proposal isn’t ideal, she said it has potential to grow and that the port should support Zephyr.

Since Kenmore left in 2014, 11 airlines have expressed interest in providing service, but none has followed through.

Port Angeles would be Zephyr’s first commercial air service.

Zephyr is considering providing service to six communities, though officials haven’t said what the others are.

________

Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at jmajor@peninsuladailynews.com.

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