WALLA WALLA, Washington – While last week’s meeting between the Walla Walla Air Travel Coalition and Alaska Airlines’ officials was short, Port of Walla Walla Director Pat Reay said the coalition was able to point out what they want to accomplish while taking away an understanding of what the airline’s position is in the local market.
“We had great representation, again our air coalition is made up of a lot of our significant businesses that use commercial air service and then elected officials, port staff – key stakeholders,” Reay said. “Alaska was at least receptive to have a meeting with us.”
Reay explained while the coalition wants more, it understands Alaska Airlines has to be profitable and make good business decisions.
“The takeaway from the meeting was the three flight schedule.is going to stay,” Reay said. “We’ve asked them to maybe change instead of having two consecutive days of mid-week two flights to maybe spread those out, so that there’s not two consecutive days. So they’re going to look at that in their scheduling.”
Reay stressed that Walla Walla Regional Airport is just one regional airport in a big system.
“So as you’re looking at network planning, and scheduling, I mean a minute here and a minute there, means something in the overall scheme,” Reay said.
And while many people have been requesting the coalition to inquire about more flights, Reay explained the load factor – how many passengers are on each flight – is a major issue for airlines.
“High 70s, low 80s percent load factor becomes a profitability mark,” he said. “So as you look at some of our flights, I mean the midday one is probably light from a load factor standpoint, the morning and the evening ones are pretty solid. So it’s filling that midday, midweek, which is where we (the port) have got to spend the advertising dollars. We’ve got to bring conventions to town which helps lodging, helps restaurants, helps the economy and also helps Alaska.”
Reay acknowledged there’s a lot of local talk about the need for a Portland flight. Alaska Airlines has canceled the flight it formerly had from Pasco to PDX. Reay said that the coalition did ask Alaska Airlines about the feasibility of a flight to Portland.
“They just kind of said, ‘Yeah, we’ll look at it,’ ” Reay said. “It’s a network planning response.”
The Port of Walla Walla is going to continue to look at options, but Reay said they must be cautious as Alaska Airlines serves Walla Walla Regional Airport.
“If they are not profitable, then they won’t serve this community,” he said. “So we’ve got to be careful loading up competition, but we’re going to look at options.”