Medford flight options eyed

September 06, 2008 12:00 am

By Kelley Atherton

Local residents responding to a survey have said they want fly to northerly points from Crescent City. Now airport officials are figuring out how to do that.

Border Coast Regional Airport Authority members decided Thursday to pursue two possibilities:

• Convincing Skywest Airlines to switch an existing flight to Arcata/Sacramento for one to Medford, Ore./Sacramento (allowing passengers to make connections in Medford to northerly points rather than continuing to the California capital).

• Forming a "travel bank" in which residents and businesses would pay up front to convince an airline to add a Medford flight.

Dan Brattain, chairman of the Airport Technical Advisory Commission, told the board that the advisory group thinks travel-banking is the way to go.

"The general feeling is that if we're serious about a northbound flight, we have to put together a travel bank," he said.

Currently, local residents can fly to Sacramento through Arcata. The airport board would rather have a flight to Rogue Valley International-Medford Airport, which flies to eight hubs with 56 daily flights through five air carriers.

Locals would then have a more direct northbound route to Portland and other large cities, without having to go through San Francisco — currently the only other city with direct flights to and from Crescent City.

Brattain noted that the Arcata/Eureka Airport has experienced a record-setting number of passengers since Delta Airlines starting offering service to Salt Lake City in June. Earlier this year, 80 Humboldt County businesses took the travel bank approach, pledging $501,700 to Delta Air Lines for a twice-daily non-stop to SLC.

A travel bank would ensure Skywest that the airline wouldn't lose money from the switch from an Arcata to a Medford flight, he said, which might help sway its decision.

The way a travel bank works is that businesses or individuals pre-pay an airline for service. That money is put into on a credit card that account holders can then use to acquire tickets for flights.

"If they don't use it, they lose it," Brattain said.

This way the airline takes less of a financial risk in expanding its service.

Eventually, Brattain said, if service to and from Medford is successful the airline would be more inclined to continue it without a travel bank.

"We're not just doing this to have fun," he said. "If we get the load factor, the airline will stay."

Brattain talked about the results of a survey Sixel Consulting conducted over the summer of Del Norte and Curry County residents. He said right now many people from the counties drive to and from the Medford airport rather than fly to and from Crescent City. People want the convenience of more flights and lower fares, he said.

"The bottom line," Brattain said, "is that we should see what we can raise."

Airport Manager Jim Bernard said that most airlines are not thinking about adding service or doing anything that will cost more money right now because of high fuels costs. Rather, airlines are pulling out of smaller markets, like North Bend, Ore. He agreed that a travel bank could be the incentive needed to convince Skywest to agree to a Medford flight.

Chairman David Finigan said a travel bank may not be necessary because the board would not be asking Skywest for additional service, but a change in service.

Commissioner Kelly Schellong agreed that a travel bank might not be necessary because there is a clear demand for Medford service.

The board elected to pursue both options, by showing Skywest the survey data and looking into a travel bank. Finigan requested that Sixel Consulting analyze the costs and scheduling for a Medford-Sacramento flight, which the board could present to Skywest.

Schellong said that a new Web site for FlyCEC.com would be an "intricate part" of getting more passengers to fly from the local airport. Bernard and Brattain will continue to look at different Web site designs to present to the board.

A possible next step toward a travel bank would be paying Sixel Consulting to devise a campaign to get the community on board.