PORT ANGELES — The Port of Port Angeles will use a $200,000 federal grant to attract a commercial passenger airline operator to William R. Fairchild International Airport, said Executive Director Karen Goschen.
The grant is from the Small Community Air Service Development Program from the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx announced Thursday that $5.15 million in grant money is going to nine small communities — including Port Angeles — to help them improve local air service.
Port officials applied for the competitive grant a few months ago, Goschen said Friday.
Port officials have been seeking a commercial airline to provide passenger service between Fairchild and Seattle-Tacoma International Airport since Kenmore Air abandoned operations there in November 2014.
Negotiations with SeaPort Airlines Inc. fell apart when the company filed for Chapter 11 reorganization in January.
The Port of Port Angeles will use the grant to subsidize low introductory airfare rates offered by an airline that agrees to operate at Fairchild, Goschen said.
“It is set up as a revenue-guarantee grant and allows an airline to offer a low introductory fare,” she said.
“That means that whatever the normal fare is, the difference can be made up by using these grant dollars,” she said.
“The concept behind that is that the airline is able to achieve the revenue they need to cover their expenses but at the same time allow them to build a customer base because customers are more willing to try something new.”
If a new airline agrees to operate out of Fairchild, port officials would encourage “people in our community to take that flight [and determine] if it is better than driving,” Goschen said.
“By having a low fare, they get to experience that . . . and that would build ridership for” the new airline, she said.
She added that new customers probably wouldn’t mind paying the full fare once they have discovered the convenience of the service.
“From that perspective, this grant becomes a really important component to help secure the commitment of the airline,” Goschen said.
Goschen said port officials are actively pursuing several companies to potentially operate out of Fairchild.
“We have a couple of airlines that we have been working with,” she said.
“These are always a major decision for the airlines to open up a new route of service, and they are still in the analysis phase.
“Something like this revenue guarantee — we are hoping it will be the component that puts them over the mark to say, ‘Yes, we are going to go ahead and commit.’ ”
Nine communities are receiving grants through the federal program this year, according to a U.S. Department of Transportation news release.
They are Bullhead City, Ariz., which is receiving $750,000; Inyokern, Calif., which is receiving $450,000; Stockton, Calif., which is receiving $650,000; Hailey, Idaho, which is receiving $500,000; Billings, Mont., which is receiving $750,000; Missoula, Mont., which is receiving $600,000; Santa Fe, N.M., which is receiving $500,000; Amarillo, Texas, which is receiving $750,000; and Port Angeles.
Representatives of each community submitted a competitive application that demonstrated community and air carrier support, along with investment from other sources such as public-private partnerships, according to the news release.
This year’s grantees met all of those criteria, committing more than $3 million in local financial resources in addition to other in-kind contributions.
Goschen credits strong community support with the successful allotment of the grant.
“We received probably 20 letters of support saying that this grant was really important to our community, and I think they helped make the difference for us to get this grant,” she said.
Letter writers included the three Clallam County commissioners; the Clallam County Economic Development Corp.; Olympic Medical Center commissioners; U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Mountlake Terrace; and U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor, Goschen said.
Kilmer represents the 6th Congressional District, which includes the North Olympic Peninsula.
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