Fewer flights, more money?

Alaska Airlines reported a profit in Walla Walla over the summer.

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WALLA WALLA — Grounding flights over the summer months was apparently good for Alaska Airlines’ bottom line.

Port of Walla Walla Executive Director Jim Kuntz said a reduction in midweek flights in Walla Walla between June and August may have been what the Seattle airline needed to help gain some financial footing in the marketplace.

He said airline officials have told him that they had a profitable summer in Walla Walla — a turnaround for one of its lowest-performing markets.

Specifics of the airline’s financial picture here were not shared when Kuntz made the announcement Tuesday during the Port’s Economic Development Advisory Committee meeting. The airline has since reinstated the two flights it dropped — an inbound and outbound afternoon flight on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

“We hope they’re not planting a seed with us” of possibly making the cuts permanent, Kuntz said.

In addition to the flight reduction, the Port eliminated $42,600 in aircraft rescue firefighting fees to the airline. It also reduced landing fees and a portion of the airline’s rent to the tune of just over $28,000 for the remainder of the year.

With a $250,000 two-year Small Community Air Service grant recently awarded from the U.S. Department of Transportation for marketing, Kuntz said he is confident the community will be able to build ridership on the daily flights to Seattle.

Alaska Airlines officials have suggested working with the community to develop a marketing plan for how the money is spent. Kuntz said the airline’s interest is “a very positive sign that Alaska is committed to try to make this market work.”

Officials from the operation’s corporate office are expected to visit in October to discuss the plan further.

“I think we’ve got a shot at preserving air service,” Kuntz said.

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