After filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in August, Essential Air Service provider PenAir announced Thursday that it will discontinue flights from Crescent City to Portland On Dec. 15.
The move leaves Crescent City without commercial passenger service.
Shortly after the bankruptcy filing, PenAir was given notice by the U.S. Department of Transportation that it must remain in Crescent City and provide at least two trips a day or 12-14 round trips in a six-day week. The DOT’s order also mandated that PenAir remain in service at Crescent City until a substitute airline takes over.
Two months later, the Border Coast Regional Airport Authority Board chose Contour Airlines, but it was expected the transition could take up to six months.
The reason for the lengthy switch is that Contour will operate under an Alternate EAS contract. Under AEAS, the Airport Authority applies for a grant from the Federal Aviation Administration and uses the money to pay Contour directly. The process takes longer than the formerly used EAS contract.
Sr. Vice President of PenAir’s Ground Operations, Murphy Forner said in a press release Thursday the airline will not be able to continue service until Contour can take over operations.
As for enforcement of the DOT order, Airport Director Matthew Leitner said it’s now in the hands of the DOT’s enforcement office.
“We continue to work with DOT to ensure our Alternate Essential Air Service application for Contour service is processed as expeditiously as possible,” Leitner said.
Why and what now
PenAir issued a press release Thursday announcing its intention to stop service.
“(In) August of 2017 the company entered into Chapter 11 and began closing their Pacific Northwest markets out of Portland, OR.,” the release said. “As part of the Chapter 11 process, the company was obligated to begin eliminating those markets that were not making money.”
“It was a tough decision to make, considering the future opportunities we could see in each of these markets,” said President Danny Seybert.
Asked what it will mean for the day-to-day operations at the airport, Leitner said “We won’t have scheduled air service between PenAir and the new provider (Contour).” He said that while the gap will mean a loss of needed revenue for the airport, it will not sit idle. General aviation, cargo flights, military flights and other will continue as before, he said.
Leitner said the airport authority has sent its grant application to the Department of Transportation, along with letters of support from the community, as well as local and state legislators. He expressed gratitude to regional, state and national tribal leaders who added their letters of support for Contour before the application was sent. Leitner said the authority has also been in contact with staff at Congressman Jared Huffman’s office, which is helping.
Once the grant application is approved, it will take Contour about 60 days to move in and set up operations in Crescent City.
Leitner gave a rough estimate of mid-March before flights will resume in Crescent City.
“If we can get it done sooner, we will,” he said.
Regarding travelers wanting to fly out during the holidays, Leitner said he could only suggest they use the airports in Medford or Arcata.
Not the first
While PenAir is not the first airline to announce it’s final days in Crescent City, Leitner noted a subtle difference. In 2015-16, Skywest Airlines, operating as a United Airlines service, announced its intention to leave and subsequently chose not to abide by a Hold In Order by the DOT. That departure led the airport authority to retain PenAir as it’s EAS provider. Leitner said PenAir was willing to abide by the DOT order following its Chapter 11 announcement, but later announced it did not have the resources to continue service in Crescent City.
Customers currently holding reservations/tickets on PenAir after Dec. 16 may contact PenAir Reservations at 800-448-4226 for a full refund.
“What I most regret is not going to have commercial air service for our region,” Leitner said.
Reach Tony Reed at firstname.lastname@example.org