Opinion Piece By Samuel Strait – September 26, 2017 –
It would appear that we are being blessed with another contender for commercial air service to and from Crecsent City in the form of Contour Airlines. I must say I had hope that we, as consumers would finally be beyond being marginalized when it sounded as though we were getting regional jet service to the Bay Area. But alas, the service to the Bay area is once again to Oakland. As I related in the first installment of the BCRAA difficulties of attracting service to any large west coast hub, San Francisco, Los Angeles, or in a pinch Seattle; Oakland will not generate the numbers of enplanements necessary for growth of service in order to make the construction of the new terminal at least less foolish, and possibly pay for it.
The new proposal, should Boutique Air and Great Lakes Airline be rejected initially, is to have Contour Airlines fly to Oakland twelve times a week. The subsidy, at this point would be unknown and come through grant funding paid directly to the BCRAA., then through contract to Contour. This arrangement is not a permanent solutions, but meant to be a temporary bridge to avoid loss of the EAS subsidy. Calling it Alternative Essential Air Service, it was designed by the Department of Transportation to give localities such as ours more time to find a solution that suits the needs of the local population.
Contour Airlines has existed since 1975, primarily as a charter air service. It is folded under an umbrella company which contains four other regional services mostly flying to cities in the Southeastern United States. Contour Airlines began scheduled air service in 2016. It has very limited exposure to regularly scheduled air service, none that I am aware of east of the Mississippi, except for perhaps Texas under another name. They intend to offer $75 one way airfare to Oakland which as I stated previously has very few Airlines and corresponding destinations without connecting to a larger hub such as Los Angeles or Denver. Connecting flights to SFO, San Francisco, would require land transportation, BART, bus, or taxi, and another check in with baggage as well and another stroll through TSA security lines, OH Joy! They fly mostly jet aircraft, many of which have been in service and manufactured since the 1990’s. They intend to use one of Embraer’s new entry’s to the fifty passenger regional jet market, the Embraer ERJ-135 which in its typical layout can handle 44 passengers. In this day and age of airlines that compulsively cram every last seat that they can into all passenger carrying planes, it is refreshing to learn that Contour Airlines is willing to reduce its passenger load both to better accommodate its passengers and reduce its take off weight to allow for the 5,000 foot runway it’s jets will be using.
This new contender for air service clearly puts to rest the notion that jet air service from the current runway of 5,000 feet is not possible without lengthening the current runway. There are other factors to consider, in that there are other jet aircraft that are currently in the inventories of major airlines that also with reduced passenger load can accomplish the same service and have the added benefit of service in and out of San Francisco. To explain this I will take the time to dispel a few myths found in the comments section of the previous opinion piece on our airport.
When Sky West discontinued service to Crescent City in 2015, the reason given was its transition from turbo props to be retired to jet aircraft. The aircraft in question the Bombardier CRJ 100 and 200 were both 50 passenger regional jets flown by Sky West to airports whose economic outlook could fill both types of jets without having to reconfigure them to accommodate smaller passenger loads of say 30 passengers. It should have been pretty clear to the powers at the time that Crescent City, after sixteen years of service, was not considered economically viable for increasing enplanements to fill fifty passenger jet aircraft. Much of that assessment was no doubt due to the local opposition to the expansion of the runways prior to 2012. The claim that Sky West was experiencing a 50% cancellation rate and service to San Francisco was a nightmare of delays and frustration no doubt came from the erroneous information published in the Triplicate after the 2012 year where the airport in San Francisco was involved in massive runway improvements. The facts according to the Department of Transportation are that the highest number of cancellations occurred in 2012 of less than 7%. Once the schedule of Sky West’s flights were changed from 6:55 am to 10:05 am its delayed flight numbers went down to 26 minutes, rather than hours. Both of Sky West’s CRJ 100 and 200 can land and take off with reduced passenger load. Finally, in its last year of service 2014, after Sky West had dumped one of its Sacramento flights in favor of a second flight to San Francisco, passenger service after languishing at just over 10,000 for years had climbed to nearly 15,000 enplanements in just three years, without any increase in population. It just takes choosing the best market to improve the numbers. In the mean time Sky West has gone on to be one of the largest air carriers in the United States, serving nearly two hundred fifty airports nation wide, with inter line connections to multiple major airlines.
As to the concern of “pissing away our tax dollars at an alarming rate” EAS subsidies are funded by foreign air travelers who over fly the United States not US tax payers. The new terminal will be ultimately funded by people who fly on airplanes in the form of a fee and not the tax payer in general. Now that we are committed to building “Finigan’s Folly” it would be nice to get our money back or at least part of it. The extended runway could wait until we have a better economy, more passengers, and correspondingly more passenger to pay for that longer runway. As to the salaries paid to the staff of the Authority, it should be clear that I am mystified by the decisions of that staff and questioning many of the decisions that were made given the circumstances. If people think that questions about Mr. Leitner’s managerial capacity constitute libel then you will find yourself in exclusive company, perhaps of two? Calling for a halt to this process now is like saying “I give up on Del Norte County”, and I’m not quite there yet.