Monday, November 24, 2014

Kenmore Air to hear proposals as Peninsula officials try to get airline to resume service

PORT ANGELES — City, Port of Port Angeles and Clallam County officials will meet with representatives of Kenmore Air on Dec. 4 in a last-ditch effort to convince the commercial passenger carrier to resume service between Port Angeles and Seattle.

Government officials Nov. 12 emailed Todd Banks, Kenmore Air president, an offer to discuss “ideas and commitments” for getting Kenmore to reverse an Oct. 31 decision that led to the Nov. 14 shutoff of service out of the port’s William R. Fairchild International Airport.

The company blamed low profits and ridership and high fuel costs after cutting service to two flights a day earlier this summer.

“We want to get a better idea of the contents of the letter,” Banks said Friday.

To resume service, “we’d have to have peace of mind financially that we can have a profitable business,” he said.

Those invited to the meeting at the port administrative building in Port Angeles include port Executive Director Ken O’Hollaren, Commissioner Colleen McAleer, Airport and Marina Manager Jerry Ludke and Director of Business Development Jennifer States; City Manager Dan McKeen and city Community and Economic Development Director Nathan West; county Administrator Jim Jones; and county Economic Development Director Bill Greenwood, Ludke said.

Their proposals included government entities buying blocks of airline tickets at volume discounts for official employee travel as well as potentially allocating lodging tax funds to advertise Kenmore service from Port Angeles to Boeing Field, where a free Kenmore shuttle took passengers to and from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

“We’ll meet with Banks and see what his needs are and can we hit a mark that would allow him to create stability until a better day when he can really flourish in this market,” said McAleer, who wrote the letter to Kenmore, with fine-tuning by McKeen.

Banks said an additional issue in Kenmore’s departure was landing directly at Sea-Tac.

That would have allowed the company to avoid the Boeing Field leg of the trip but only at “significant” expense because of landing fees, gate fees and counter-space lease requirements that would have been imposed on the airline.

Those costs must be reflected in fares, and fares drive ridership numbers, Banks said.

Ludke said Kenmore’s departure also would not have an impact on federal subsidies the port receives for airport maintenance and improvement because Rite Bros. Aviation still flies commercial charter flights out of Fairchild.

Owners of Rite Bros. and Dungeness Line in Clallam County said Friday the impact of Kenmore leaving on their own businesses has been minimal if anything.

But Rocket Transportation of Sequim has seen an uptick in inquiries and reservations and expects to add another shuttle bus and additional drivers by Dec. 31, owner Kathy Roman said.

Roman said she has received a 30 percent increase in inquiries that is due partly to holiday bookings but also to Kenmore’s departure, especially from regular Kenmore customers, including corporate clients.

“If we are getting a 30 percent increase in calls, we are getting calls from Kenmore clients,” she said.

“Very possibly, one out of every three clients going out is now from Kenmore.

“It’s definitely been a bonus, but not one I’m happy about.

“I like it when people have a choice.”

Rite Bros. owner Jeff Well said Kenmore’s departure has not benefited his business.

“We haven’t seen any flights related to Kenmore leaving,” he said.

“It highlights why they left. The economic reality of our community is that people can’t afford to fly.”

Well said his company has lost about $2,000 in monthly income because of Kenmore’s departure.

It lost a maintenance agreement to service Kenmore planes.

That led to a cut in employee hours, he said.

Dungeness Line owner Jack Heckman said last week he has not noticed a large increase in inquiries or reservations for his scheduled bus service to Sea-Tac.

“Right after the announcement, we got a bunch of calls, and there were some reservations made, but I would not say it’s anything substantial to where we would have to add an additional route,” he said.

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