WALLA WALLA -- Rent and landing fee reductions for Alaska Airlines were approved Friday by Port of Walla Walla commissioners.
The fee reductions were the latest effort by Port commissioners to show they are serious about building air travel and retaining the airline. The reductions will go into effect this month through the end of this year.
The motion approved Friday will reduce the landing fees and terminal building rent by 50 percent. The reductions are expected to save the airline $17,200 in landing fees and $10,830 in rent.
The measure passed 2-1, with Port commissioners Paul Schneidmiller and Mike Fredrickson voting "yes" and commissioner Ron Dunning voting "no."
The subject of fee reductions as a way to keep Alaska flying to Walla Walla has been discussed by Port commissioners and community members for the past several weeks. Port commissioners in May voted to waive $42,600 in aircraft rescue and firefighting fees to the airline between July and December.
The airline, which is Walla Walla's only commercial carrier, has told the Port the market is underperforming and costing the company money to continue operating here. As a result, the airline has reduced its daily flight schedule Tuesday and Wednesdays to only one daily inbound and outbound flight to Seattle instead of two. The two-flight schedule is expected to return at the end of August.
Commissioners also unanimously approved a motion that the shortfall in funds from the fee reduction would be made up for from reserves in the airport's budget.
During their discussion, an audience member, Barlow Corkrum, asked commissioners to consider the idea of using the money to purchase airline tickets that they could then issue to the community instead of giving the airline fee reductions. The revenues from the tickets would then go to Alaska Airlines, providing the same end result, he said.
But commissioners said that although the idea was intriguing at first glance, it was unsustainable.
"It's the devil in the details," Schneidmiller said.
Schneidmiller and Dunning said the Port would somehow have to find a way to track the tickets to make sure they were used only by new fliers to prove a boost in passenger traffic. Port Executive Director Jim Kuntz also said the proposal would not pass muster with the state Auditor's Office.
"It would never pass the audit test," he said. If the Port bought $20,000 worth of tickets and handed them out, "that would be ruled as lending the state's credit ... They would come down on you very hard."