Opinion Piece By Samuel Strait – September 19, 2017 – I wait with bated breath to see what fiasco that our Boarder Coast Regional Airport Authority (BCRAA pronounced “bic -rah”) and its master of manufactured cheeriness, Director Matthew Leitner. will inflict on the flying population of Del Norte County. Of course the blame for this comedy of errors cannot solely be laid at the feet of the authority and its staff as much of the blame for lack of any kind of success should also include the loud voices of our anti-development environmental community. Had the authority forged ahead early on and ignored the irrational demands by those self same individuals, Sky West to Sacramento and San Francisco may just have been rescued. We are now, post 2013, living in an entirely different Commercial Carrier landscape which does not bode well for the future of commercial air service into and out of Crescent City.
While we might have been dealing with the current change in service providers last Spring had the Authority bothered to look into the financial health of PenAir prior to renewing the two year Essential Air Service contract, I suppose that is too much to ask from Mr. Leitner. I suppose it is also too much to ask where the additional 10,000 passenger emplanements are going to come from if the destination points are Portland and Oakland, or Portland and Sacramento. I cannot see much opportunity to reach the necessary 20,000 passenger emplanements threshold with that sorry list of destinations particularly in light of the entrenched anti-development, anti-economic growth environment that currently inhabits nearly every government meeting conducted within the County and in the pages of our very own print newspaper, the Triplicate.
Before we look at the problems of limping along with no coherent strategy for making commercial air services both enduring and viable as well, let us look at our current prospects for that service, Great Lakes Airline and Boutique Air. Great Lakes Airline was founded in the late 70’s in the Midwest. At its high point, yes, its high point, it serviced 120 airports around the Country and had inter line agreements with several major carriers. In recent years the mighty has fallen to it’s current form where it services but eleven, yes that’s eleven, one, one, airports through out the United States. It services it’s current inventory of airports with thirty ageing prop planes, none of which are currently manufactured. Only four of Great Lakes Airlines eleven airports are subsidized with EAS funding. They predict that they will be able to operate at about forty percent capacity and only require a $2.5 million dollar subsidy. Many of Great Lakes Airlines EAS serviced communities no longer have commercial air service and a few have been picked up by Boutique Air. This should give someone, anyone, who is in charge at the Authority some kind of clue as to where this is all heading.
Boutique Air is a relatively new comer to the field of Commercial Carrier service, having opened its doors in 2007, but waited until 2013 to begin passenger carrying on scheduled routes. All of the airports that they service are EAS. They currently have an inventory of twenty five single engine planes to service 32 airports. Quite a trick. Both planes used by Boutique Air are currently being manufactured. As a newcomer without much history, the routes that they have been able to begin service are generally those that have lost their providers, and some were formerly served by Great Lakes Airlines in New Mexico and Arizona. Boutique Air will require a subsidy of slightly over $4 million to provide three daily flights to Portland and two-three flights daily to Oakland. In the wild world of changing fortunes for commercial airlines, it is difficult to determine what the future holds for Boutique Air, but is it a gamble as to how long they will last?
As an airport that currently emplanes less than thirty passengers per day or eight per flight, the carrying capacity of Boutique’s planes match up pretty well for capacity, but leave very little room for increased emplanements in the future and would be impossible to ever get to the 20,000 emplanement threshold necessary for consideration by the FAA for funding to lengthen the runway. Great news for the anti-development environmental crowd, not so great for those of us who would like to see Del Norte County grow and prosper. Great Lakes on the other hand can easily handle the load with plenty of room for expansion on their thirty passenger planes. Ah, the 20,000 enplanement threshold is possible. Sacramento as a destination might be pleasing to those in our government sector, but both Portland and Sacramento are considerably less serviceable for the general public.
And finally the last bit of “good” news is that the destinations for Great Lakes is Portland and Sacramento, and Boutique Air is Portland and Oakland. Apparently San Francisco (SFO) is out of the question for our current guru of airport usage and common sense. While it is very unlikely that Sacramento, Portland or Oakland are in any combination going to be good for emplanements, choice, and ease of use, it is what it is. Perhaps Mr. Leitner might just invest some time in the next two years to try and attract an airline which goes to Sacramento and San Francisco, and maybe the numbers at the airport will go up, maybe to 20,000, and it would have the additional benefits of attracting both a longer runway and the repayment of the County’s loan for the largely underutilized future “New” airport terminal. May all of the anti-economic development environmentalists scurry to their respective safe spaces. I still am having difficulty with why only thirty days were given as the time line for finding a new carrier and why San Francisco was not included as one of the destinations. What does Mr. Leitner get, a kick back if he keeps shoving Portland down our throats? One can only hope…..