Walla Walla The Walla Walla Regional Airport has landed a $250,000 federal grant for a two-year marketing campaign to help stabilize air service here.
U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., announced this morning the airport has been awarded the allocation, with a $50,000 local match.
The money is part of a Small Community Air Development Grant issued through the U.S. Department of Transportation. Such grants are used to support existing air service or build new service. This one will be used over a two-year period on a comprehensive marketing campaign in the Walla Walla Valley to promote flying locally.
Cantwell was instrumental in helping the airport secure the grant, officials said. As chair of the Aviation Subcommittee she wrote a letter of support for Walla Walla's application to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood last June.
In a statement this morning she called the grant "a significant step forward to support jobs and economic growth in the Walla Walla Valley."
"I was proud to strongly support Walla Walla Regional Airport's bid for this air service development grant, which will help to continue (Alaska Airline's) multiple daily direct flights from Seattle to Walla Walla," she continued. "Growing Walla Walla's commercial air service will support Southeast Washington jobs from hotels to small businesses to wineries."
Walla Walla has had a temporary reduction in flights this summer. Seattle-based carrier Alaska grounded one inbound and outbound flight on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. The airline told Port of Walla Walla and Walla Walla Regional Airport officials the company is losing money in the market. Though the airline plans to restore its normal schedule of two round trips daily, some in the community have worried the airline may be poised for permanent takeoff.
Port Executive Director Jim Kuntz lauded Cantwell's assistance, as well as that of Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Spokane, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and the Walla Walla Air Travel Coalition made up of representatives of the Walla Walla Valley Chamber of Commerce, Port, Tourism Walla Walla and Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance, among others. The latter group, he said, will help determine how to use the funds to promote air service in Walla Walla.
He said the airline needs an 80- to 85-percent load factor on its flights in order to succeed in the market. Kuntz believes this could be accomplished with 10 to 15 more travelers per day on the flights. He also believes there is a much greater number of people who opt to fly out of other communities, including Pasco.
"If we can help get even a small percentage of those to rethink flying out of Walla Walla and being part of the solution of retaining air service, it will make a difference," Kuntz said this morning. "We're not that many passengers off from having a really solid load factor."
Airport officials have long touted the benefits of flying locally, including reduced fuel costs of traveling to another city and free parking at the airport. Kuntz said it's important that flights to Seattle out of Walla Walla are aligned with connections to other destinations.
The new grant will help to continue to share the message.
"Retaining air service is essential to our economic vitality," he said. "Walla Walla needs air service to be successful. Now we have the tools to tell the story."
Last year 32,127 passengers flew from the airport to Seattle; 32,002 flew into Walla Walla. The numbers were among the highest at the Walla Walla Regional Airport. However in changing economic times they aren't enough for the airline's profitability, officials have said.
In her letter of support for the proposal, Cantwell said the proposal is an example of a public/private partnership to "ensure the maintenance of existing jobs and the possibility of further job growth as scheduled aviation service is maintained and, over time, hopefully expanded further at Walla Walla Regional Airport."