PORT ANGELES — If Port Angeles is to regain commercial air service to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, the airline will need to be subsidized, said John Nutter, port director of finance and administration.
“It’s unfortunately highly unlikely” that Port Angeles will see prices similar to what Kenmore Air offered — $120 flights — unless the airline is subsidized, he said.
“We need the airline to be subsidized.”
He said rising costs for fuel, pilot salaries, aircraft and insurance have made it difficult to attract airlines to the area.
Major airlines previously subsidized feeder flights to hubs from smaller airports, he said. Alaska Airlines subsidized Horizon flights from Port Angeles to Sea-Tac but stopped in early 2004.
An airline could be subsidized through a federal program or a community project not related to the port, Nutter said, but the port cannot provide the funding.
He said the port is focused on making Fairchild International Airport eligible for the federal Essential Air Service program, but that’s easier said than done.
“Our focus at this point is engaging federal legislators to find a way to get the Port Angeles airport included in the EAS program,” Nutter said. “However, that will take an act of Congress.”
Fairchild is not eligible for the program, he said.
The federal government prohibits any airports that had non-subsidized airline service in October 2012 from benefiting from the program.
Kenmore Air, which flew between Port Angeles and Boeing Field in Seattle, was operating at that time but pulled out in November 2014, citing decreasing ridership and revenues and increasing costs after 10 years of service.
The federal EAS program subsidizes airlines at rural airports that provide air service to larger hubs.
For example, the program makes it possible for people to fly from Fort Dodge, Iowa, to Chicago O’Hare International Airport round trip for about $160.
Since Kenmore left, the port has talked with 13 airlines. It is currently talking with officials of two: Zephyr Air and another that hasn’t been named.
The port has a face-to-face meeting with officials with the latest airline planned for next week.
It will be the first time the airline’s officials had been in Port Angeles for on-site discussions about providing air service, Nutter said.
Port officials contacted the airline within the past two weeks and have since been in telephone discussions.
“Those discussions have led to a planned site visit,” Nutter said.
Zephyr is currently re-evaluating its initial proposal, and the port hopes to review it soon, he said.
Zephyr last month publicly proposed flights from Fairchild International Airport to both Boeing Field and Sea-Tac.
The airline’s proposal does not make it eligible for a revenue guarantee through the port’s $200,000 Small Community Air Service Development Program grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation. The port would need to reapply for the grant, and there’s no guarantee it would be awarded again.
The fact that the port has now talked to 13 different airlines shows the port is “taking a very active role in trying to put this together,” Nutter said. “Port staff have been diligently working on this issue, but our options appear limited at best.”
He said the port will ask for public input before any final decisions are made and encourages anyone with suggestions to contact the port.
“We have made finding air service a priority,” Nutter said. “Finding one that remains viable over the long term is equally important.”
Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.