Effort to keep air service in Walla Walla goes on

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Over the past few years, the Walla Walla Valley Chamber of Commerce has led the Air Service Coalition with the goal of preserving and eventually expanding air transportation here in Walla Walla. We have worked effectively with our partners in this effort, which include Tourism Walla Walla, the Port of Walla Walla, the Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance and Kip Kelly of Coffey Communications.

The Coalition went into full motion first when Horizon Airlines ceased as a brand servicing Walla Walla and was moved to its bigger sister company, Alaska Airlines. With that move also came a new set of players and relationships that needed to be established. The Coalition went to Seattle to meet with the Alaska executives in charge of our market. It was a good beginning.

Earlier this year, Alaska announced it was cutting a flight in the afternoons over the summer to make the Walla Walla market profitable. This was alarming news, and the entire Coalition met with Brad Tilden, president and CEO of Alaska Air Group, and his top executive team this spring to brainstorm solutions.

The Coalition wants to keep you informed of this important issue and let you know the latest since we last checked in. Here are some important items over the last few months:

  • Alaska restored all of its afternoon flights effective Sept. 1. The Walla Walla market is back to its prior schedule.
  • The Port of Walla Walla, with the Coalition’s support, was awarded a $250,000 Small Community Air Service Grant from the US Department of Transportation in September. This provides important marketing funds to increase traffic on both our inbound and outbound flights. Congratulations to Port Commissioner Schneidmiller and Port Executive Director Jim Kuntz who went back to Washington, D.C., and secured the funds. The Coalition is working with Alaska Airlines to develop the most effective marketing plan to enhance the market.
  • The box score for the market is mixed. As of Oct. 1, total passenger traffic is down about 1.5 percent due to the reduction in summer afternoon flights on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. More encouraging is the fact that Walla Walla outbound and inbound passenger loads are about 3 percent ahead of last year so far this year.
  • Duane Wollmuth, executive director of the Wine Alliance and Coalition partner, has done a great job of extending the “Taste & Tote” program that encourages wine visitors to fly to Walla Walla and can return home with a wine flies free promotion. He also has some other great news up his sleeve that will help build wine tourism. More on that shortly!

So the work of the Coalition continues. We are making progress but still have much to do to continue to build the viability of air service in Walla Walla.

The Coalition is grateful to the team at Alaska for its efforts to make this market work.

You can really help the cause by choosing to fly out of Walla Walla whenever you can. It makes a difference!

We will keep in touch. Safe travels.

David Woolson is president/CEO of the Walla Walla Valley Chamber of Commerce. His email is 29 E. Sumach dwoolson@wwvchamber.com

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