A Border Coast Regional Airport Authority spokesperson says Contour Airlines practice of diverting flights from Crescent City to Medford and busing passengers home goes above and beyond what other airlines offer.
In October, the airline has diverted two flights to Medford due to fog. One returned to Oakland to come home the following morning because a bus was not available in Medford.
Susan Daughtery, BCRAA program director, said Contour has had to delay or divert flights, but as of yet has had no incomplete flights.
Daughtery explained pilots will not land without at least a 300-foot cloud ceiling above the runway.
Also, recent assertions that previous airlines didn’t alter flights due to fog, don’t stand up to the facts.
Daughtery gave the following numbers:
“Actually, in October 2017, PenAir canceled 14 flights due to fog,” she said. “In October 2016, they canceled nine flights.”
Preceding PenAir, Skywest Airlines canceled 11 flights in November 2015.
“Contour doesn’t cancel flights,” Daughtery said, adding pilots have also considered landing in Arcata but there is no shuttle service there. She said pilots will always fly to Crescent City and determine if it’s safe to land.
Daugherty was on a recent Contour flight into Crescent City when the pilot determined it was too foggy to land. Since a bus was not available in Medford, passengers stayed in Oakland that night and were flown into Crescent City the following morning.
“Crescent City gets fog and it seems like October has gone on longer and we’ve always had diversions and delays. The difference is the amount of effort Contour is making to get people home,” Daugherty said. “My point is that weather happens and airports all deal with it differently.”
She said if pilots were to try to land with less than a 300-foot ceiling, the runway lights would not be visible until the plane is very close to the ground.
“It just wouldn’t be safe and safety is a priority,” she said.
A big deal?
Crescent City Mayor Pro Tem Heidi Kime and family were on a recent flight that was diverted to Medford due to fog. She said the extra time spent on the bus was appreciated and not an imposition.
“It was so fast,” Kime said. “We got off the plane and walked straight onto a bus. Our luggage was already loaded and the driver was awesome. It was a smooth ride all the way to the coast.”
Kime said passengers knew upon departure from Oakland that fog in Crescent City may be an issue and the general attitude among the 29 passengers was good.
“I got the feeling they were happy to be going home, rather than spending the night in Oakland,” she said.
Kime said the pilot descended over Crescent City but fog was too thick to see anything. She said Contour paid for the bus ride and that due to ticket discounts, her family of four was able to have a weekend adventure for a total of $550.
“I may have said a little too loudly on the bus how lucky we were that Contour did that for us,” she said.
Trees not a factor
Asked if pilots’ decisions not to land in fog has anything to do with nearby trees, Daughtery laughed a little before answering. She explained that flights come in on two runways, neither of which have trees at either end.
However, the airport authority has been looking into removing trees adjacent to the airport for several years.
In March 2017, BCRAA officials were interested in trading some land with State Parks so that trees located along the perimeter fence, which were in danger of growing into restricted airspace, could be removed. At the time, BCRAA proposed a value-for-value trade of land within the Tolowa Dunes for a section of county property near the airport.
In his report to Solid Waste Management Authority staff in March 2017, Director Tedd Ward said he’d met with former Airport Director Matt Leitner to discuss the potential swap. “As part of their effort to address trees adjacent to the runway that are penetrating protected airspace used for arriving and departing aircraft, BCRAA needs to reduce the height of trees and other vegetation near the runway on the property that is currently owned by California State Parks,” Ward wrote.
Daughtery said the airport authority still wants to take down some of the trees and is close to completing a necessary environmental assessment document and hopes to start design work soon.
“For the most part, we would be taking them down completely,” she said, noting that it would be hard to ensure the tree health if only the intruding portions are removed.