The $250,000 federal grant aimed at helping keep commercial air service in and out of Walla Walla is welcome.
We don’t say that easily. While that’s not much money in relation to overall spending, it’s still a significant amount of cash. When the government spends $250,000 on this and $1 million on that, it quickly adds up to serious money.
So we believe if $250,000 is being spent it should be for the public good. This qualifies.
Regular, affordable air service in and out of Walla Walla is critical to the community’s economic health.
And it’s more than just a tourist thing. Local businesses such as Banner Bank, Key Technology, Coffey Communications, Nelson Irrigation and others count on consistent air service to serve their customers. It’s a boon for smaller businesses as well as the three colleges in the area.
Unfortunately, Walla Walla’s air service provided by Alaska Airlines remains tenuous as company officials contend there is no profit and no reason to continue serving this market unless the airline can break even.
Ironically, the passenger numbers out of Walla Walla have been very good. Last year 32,127 passengers flew from the airport to Seattle; 32,002 flew into Walla Walla. These are among the highest the Walla Walla Regional Airport has seen.
But the economics of the airline industry have changed. The numbers just aren’t good enough, airline officials have said.
The $250,000 allocation — with the mandate for a $50,000 local match — is part of a Small Community Air Development Grant issued through the U.S. Department of Transportation. The 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.
U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., used her standing as chairwoman of the Aviation Subcommittee to secure the funds. U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Spokane, were also behind the effort.
This local matter is also a federal matter. Millions of dollars in federal funds were critical in getting the terminal building constructed 12 years ago.
The federal government funded much of the construction because air service is critical to the nation’s economic health.
At this point, it would be foolish for the federal government not to supports effort to keep the airport open.
The approach taken by Alaska Airlines will also play a huge role in Walla Walla’s air service future.
Alaska has cut some flights this summer in an effort to cut costs. It has promised to restore those flights later this month. That needs to happen.
Air service in and out of Walla Walla must be consistent, affordable and convenient to be successful.
This grant should help the efforts to ensure air service continues.