By Donna Westfall – September 5, 2017 –
The Saab 340B had it’s first maiden flight in 1983. By 1984, it was put into production typically carrying between 30-36 civilian passengers at a time. Up until that point, Saab manufactured planes for the military. Even though production has terminated on the commuter plane, there are still about 370 planes in service capable of flying for another 30 years.
However, since the first of this month, PenAir, which filed for bankruptcy protection in August, has notified the Department of Transportation that they will be physically impossible to continue flights in Nebraska and Kansas after September 10.
PenAir has experienced what they call a massive pilot exodus. 17 pilots of the 340B have already turned in their resignation or taken jobs with other airlines. Council members from those cities are scrambling to get bids from other airlines so that daily flight service can continue.
Background History: The Airline Deregulation Act of 1978 gave airlines almost total freedom to determine which domestic markets to serve and what airfares to charge. Smaller communities with low passenger levels were concerned they would lose service. So, Congress established the Essential Air Service (EAS) program to ensure that small communities that were served by certificated air carriers before deregulation would continue to receive scheduled passenger service, with subsidies if necessary.
Peninsula Airways was founded by Orin Seybert in 1955. Seybert was 19 years old. In 1991, they changed their name to PenAir. In 2012, they won the bid to service EAS route between cities in Maine and New York. By 2016, they successfully bid on routes between Denver, Colorado and several small cities in Kansas and Nebraska.
Also in 2016, they were successful in their bid for EAS service between Crescent City (CEC) and Portland, Oregon (PDX).
The big question for our area is how much longer PenAir will continue to fly in Crescent City? Should they terminate service this month, what options does that leave us?
Instead of expanding the CEC runway to accommodate Essential Air Service (EAS), SkyWest CRJ200 50-seat flights to San Francisco (SFO), a decision was made to not expand the runway and take the easy way out. CEC could easily lose PenAir this month. At best, the only EAS player left might be the single engine 9-seater.