Tony Reed
Del Norte Triplicate

While some planes continue to take off and land at Border Coast Regional Airport, none of them are full of holiday travelers flying PenAir. The airline’s last flight out of Crescent City happened Dec. 16 and the plane had only its crew on board. It’s announcement to end local service ahead of the switch to a new provider was said to have been because it simply could not afford to continue operating here.

“(In) August of 2017 the company entered into Chapter 11 and began closing their Pacific Northwest markets out of Portland, OR.,” an official release said. “As part of the Chapter 11 process, the company was obligated to begin eliminating those markets that were not making money.”

While the airport had some previous issues regarding its Essential Air Service (EAS) providers, 2017 proved to be somewhat problematic, as well.

PenAir renewed

Back in May, the BCCRA Board of Directors chose PenAir over Boutique Air, to provide EAS to Crescent City. At the time, there was concern that President Trump’s proposed budget would eliminate EAS funding. Airport Director Matt Leitner said at the time that EAS fees come mostly from overflight fees and make up an insignificant part of the federal budget. By year’s end, no cuts to EAS funding have been proposed.

In June, the airport received the Federal Aviation Administration’s 2017 Airport Safety Award, beating seven other facilities including Orange County’s John Wayne Airport, the San Diego International Airport and the Los Angeles International Airport.

The award recognized airport staff’s work in attracting new carriers, clear obstructions in environmentally sensitive areas and complete a runway safety area project.

Brian Armstrong, manager of the FAA Western-Pacific Region’s safety and standards branch, presented the award to BCRAA staff at the Western-Pacific Region conference in Anaheim.

Just a few months after having its EAS contract renewed, PenAir announced in August that it would be filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

In a press release, a spokesperson for PenAir said, “PenAir recently announced the termination of the Portland-area regional routes as part of an immediate cost-cutting plan in the Pacific Northwest. All, but the Essential Air Service (EAS) route between Portland and Crescent City, California, will be shut down effective close of business on Monday, August 7.”

At the time, the Department of Transportation issued an order that PenAir remain in Crescent City until a replacement airline can become operational.

At the same time, a request for proposals went out to other interested airlines.

Three airlines answered the call, Boutique Air, Great Lakes Airlines and Contour airlines. All three brought planes to Crescent City and gave their pitches to the airport board and the county Board of Supervisors.

Contour brings a jet

In October, Contour Airlines was chosen to provide Alternate Essential Air Service locally.

One reason cited for choosing Contour was its competitive pricing of $75 one-way to Oakland.

It will also be the first regional jet to operate out of Crescent City, offering seating for 30 passengers, including those with limited mobility.

Airport program manager Susan Daugherty said the approval of Contour’s Alternate Essential Air Service meant the board had to reject the two EAS proposals, apply for a grant from the Federal Aviation Administration and enter into a contract directly with Contour. However, the application process was expected to take up to four months.

PenAir’s announcement that it’s last flight would be Dec. 15 defied the DOT order, but it is not yet known if it will take action against the airline.

Customers currently holding reservations/tickets on PenAir after Dec. 16 may contact PenAir Reservations at 800-448-4226 for a full refund.

Leitner estimated that if the application process goes smoothly, Contour could be operating out of the airport by mid-March.

The airport remains open to private pilots, military, and other aircraft.

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