Tony Reed
Del Norte Triplicate

Commercial flights could resume as early as mid-April at Crescent City’s airport with the OK of a $3.3 million federal grant.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Transportation approved an application by Border Coast Regional Airport to begin using Alternate Essential Air Service (AEAS) money that will allow Contour Airlines to fly passengers to Oakland. With the approval now official, Contour CEO Matt Chaifetz said by phone Tuesday he expects operations to be under way in Crescent City by mid-April.

“The Department will enter into a grant agreement with Crescent City to provide up to $3,310,503 per year in financial assistance to be used by Crescent City for public charter service to Oakland International Airport, or alternate large or medium hub airport designated by the community,” the DOT order reads, “using 30-passenger Embraer ERJ-135 (jet) aircraft for a 30 month term beginning April 1, 2018 through Sept. 30, 2020.

Airport Manager Matt Leitner said he was struggling to contain his enthusiasm following the delivery of the DOT approval.

“I’m very grateful,” Leitner said, “and it bears repeating to thank the tribal organizations, city, county and state governments, (U.S. Rep.) Jared Huffman’s California office, (Sen.) Peter Dafazio’s Oregon Office, the State of Oregon and all the people who voiced their support for this. I think we did very well and it will be a huge success.”

During the selection process, Contour said it can offer flights to Oakland for around $70.

“We hope to have tickets on sale early next week,” Chaifetz said. “We will be launching with a very aggressive introductory fare that will make it very affordable to go to the Bay Area. We feel AEAS is about making travel accessible to the community and I think our fares make that feasible.”

Exact fares were not provided.

Chaifetz said he and the company was thrilled to have the support of the Crescent City community during the most recent selection process and will be working quickly to post job listings and do the necessary site work to get started. Contour will use a mix of locally-hired and company employees, he said.

Contour will operate out of the existing terminal and will bring its own computers and equipment, along with it’s 30-passenger jet plane.

Chaifetz said the plane and crew will be overnighting locally most weekdays, but his staff is still finalizing a schedule. Contour staff will also be at the airport next week for site preparation.

“No doubt, our service will be a huge benefit to Crescent City,” he said.

Leitner noted Wednesday that passengers can connect to other major cities on Southwest Airlines at Oakland Airport for reasonable rates.

Contour’s airplane is the ERJ-135, twin-engine jet, which is capable of making the flight to Oakland in about an hour.

He also clarified that the airline will be offering seven trips to Oakland per week, and the Alternate Essential Air Service guidelines offer some flexibility.

“The subsidy we’ve been granted is enough for 365 days per year,” he said. “We may not fly on some days, but may add flights on other days.”

Terminal under way

Construction on the new terminal at the Border Coast Regional Airport continues through the winter months, and the floor, foundation and underground infrastructure are mostly in place. Leitner said the arched steel that will make up the framework of the new terminal is still being assembled in Eureka and that he expects to see “vertical development” in the next week or so.

Once construction is complete at the end of the year, Contour will be able to move from the existing terminal into the new one, he said.

Reach Tony Reed at treed@triplicate.com

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