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When is the Tri-Cities getting back its flight to Portland?

A file photo of the security checkpoint at the Tri-Cities Airport in Washington. On Tuesday, a man bypassed the security checkpoint at Denver International Airport and was later apprehended by authorities.
A file photo of the security checkpoint at the Tri-Cities Airport in Washington. On Tuesday, a man bypassed the security checkpoint at Denver International Airport and was later apprehended by authorities. Tri-City Herald

Tri-Citians embraced their pretty new airport in 2017, even as Mother Nature and a Seattle-based airline canceled flights.

The Port of Pasco reports a record 376,758 boardings at the Tri-Cities Airport last year, 0.2 percent more than 2016.

The airport’s annual growth rate is typically 10 times that.

But Buck Taft, airport director, is unashamedly happy with any growth in a year challenged by cancellations beyond its control — snow and a pilot shortage that drove Alaska Air Group to cancel flights.

Fortunately, the current winter has been mild and Alaska Air Group is reportedly preparing to restore Pasco-to-Portland service within a few months.

The port, which operates the airport, has plenty riding on passenger numbers: It debuted a $42 million expansion and remodel that put a shiny face on the region to newcomers early last year.

But 2017’s brutal winter and Alaska’s pilot shortage conspired to cut the number of available seats at Pasco by 8 percent, more than 35,000 in all.

airport
The Tri-Cities Airport set a new boardings record in 2017 despite cancellations for snow and Alaska Air Group’s pilot shortage. File Tri-City Herald

Even though United Airlines added seats when it began flying larger planes to Colorado, the one-two punch of snow and Alaska dropped the overall number of available seats to 442,306, from nearly 478,000 a year earlier.

Alaska not only cut the Portland flight, it substituted smaller, 50-seat regional jets.

“2017 was still a record year,” Taft said. “Thanks to our travelers, we were able to keep our remaining planes full.”

He’s optimistic 2017’s troubles will soon be a thing of the past. Alaska has agreed to a wage package with pilots in October that helps brings pilot pay up to par.

2017 was still a record year. Thanks to our travelers, we were able to keep our remaining planes full.

Buck Taft, Tri-Cities Airport director

Taft said the airline will restore the daily Portland flight and other service by the second quarter. It will also return to using larger airplanes.

“If all returns to normal, we should see some pretty decent growth this year,” he said.

Alaska officials weren’t available to discuss their plans. The airline reported $1.2 billion in earnings on $8 billion in revenue in 2017, or more than $8.30 per share.

In the interim, the port is teaming with other local economic development officials to pitch airlines on a daily flight to Los Angeles International, a route with demonstrable demand.

If all returns to normal, we should see some pretty decent growth this year.

Buck Taft, Tri-Cities Airport director

Allegiant Air offers seasonal service to Los Angeles, but is oriented to leisure travelers

He likened the effort to recruiting a business to the community. It takes time, lots of meetings and data and data.

“We’re still working on it. Every conference I’m at,” Taft said. “I’m trying.”

Wendy Culverwell: 509-582-1514, @WendyCulverwell

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