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Board Revises Strategy to Enhance Commercial Air Service

An airplane on the tarmac at sunset, with the sun casting long shadows.

26 Jun 2024

Passengers disembarking from an airplane onto the tarmac.

(North Bend, OR) – The Coos County Airport District (CCAD) Board of Commissioners has given its blessing to have a contracted aviation consultant pursue a small carrier to build traveler capacity and increased destination options while working out a plan to take to major airlines later this year. The board met with consultant Jack Penning of Volaire Aviation to get an airline industry update and prepare a plan for negotiating Portland service. Penning told commissioners the airport needs to go back to the table to create an incentivized plan to restart air service to Portland. The most viable option is through Alaska Airlines.

History: The airport had Commercial Air Service to Portland, but lost the route more than a decade ago. Since then, it has been difficult to get the airlines to even consider establishing a Portland route from the Southwest Oregon Regional Airport. Several factors make reestablishing a route more difficult today than it was before the pandemic. The largest issue is a pilot shortage. The second is cost.

The Challenges Ahead: Providing commercial air service is more expensive today than it was five years ago. That means airlines are not just looking at the number of passengers filling a plane, but also the dollars they make by filling a seat. Small regional airports throughout the United States are providing incentives to ensure continued commercial air service. Air service routes launched over the last year have required minimum revenue guarantees and incentives. CCAD has a federal grant to assist with securing Portland service, but it will require adding even more funding and in-kind services to sweeten the deal in today’s climate.

With not enough pilots to fly all the planes leased by the airlines, they are left grounded in storage. This creates an opportunity for the airport. Penning believes with enough incentives and a better-established passenger base there is a strong possibility of a successful negotiation. But first or simultaneously, the airport must build a stronger slate of commercial passengers from the more than 100-thousand people who live in or near the district.

Travelers at an airport gate with a United Airlines sign, clocks showing different time zones, seating area, and a "DO NOT ENTER" sign.

The Strategy: The board decided to pivot its strategy from what it was pre-pandemic. The first will be to secure additional incentives, develop a plan, and meet in person with low-cost carriers like Allegiant, Avelo, Breeze, and Sun Country Airlines in October during a national air service conference. Having a low-fare option or other air carriers will help build a new passenger base and show larger connecting airlines that the area has the long-term capacity to support additional air service. In addition, the consultant will reopen conversations with larger carriers like Alaska and United Airlines to discuss the possibility of northbound flights to Portland and Seattle. Staff will also work on building consumer confidence, showing that service to and from the airport has been and remains reliable.