We appreciate the residents who flew out of the Walla Walla Regional Airport in 2013. You are making a difference in keeping commercial air service viable in our market.
Passenger enplanements in 2013 totaled 33,050, which represented an increase of 3.8 percent from 2012. It is the second-highest enplanement total in the past 10 years. The only better year was 2009 when enplanements totaled 33,430.
As for the other airport in our region (Tri-Cities), passenger enplanements declined 1 percent in 2013.
In addition to passenger volumes, Alaska Airlines looks very closely at load factors in the markets they serve. It is an important economic measurement for the airline.
The Walla Walla market has done well on this measurement. For all outbound flights in 2013 our load factor was 69.26 percent. For all inbound flights our load factor was 70.01 percent.
During the past four years our load factors have increased each year.
Late last year, Alaska Airlines announced it was looking at moving the last flight of the day from Seattle to Walla Walla from its current 7:30 p.m. departure to an 11 p.m. departure. This caused a lot of debate in the Walla Walla community as to whether this proposed schedule change was positive or negative.
The Port’s position was an 11 p.m. flight would be harmful to our market.
Passenger traffic leaving Walla Walla is 50 percent destination to the greater Seattle area. This consists of citizens conducting business on the westside and coming back the same day or a day or two later. This passenger segment does not want to wait around Seattle for an 11 p.m. return flight.
The other 50 percent of Walla Walla passengers are connecting to other flights at Sea Tac. Of those Walla Walla connecting passengers the large majority of them are West Coast travelers. The flights coming back into Sea-Tac from West Coast markets align well with the 7:30 p.m. return flight to Walla Walla. This passenger segment does not want to wait for an 11 p.m. return flight.
As a result, the majority of our passengers (approximately 80 percent) benefit from the 7:30 p.m. return flight from Seattle to Walla Walla.
This leaves us with the continued challenge of those traveling back from the East Coast who cannot make it back in time for the 7:30 p.m. departure. An 11 p.m. departure works for them and they were big advocates for the time change.
In the end, Alaska Airlines announced the last flight of the day starting in March will depart Seattle at 8:15 p.m. and arrive in Walla Walla at 9:10 p.m.
It is a reasonable compromise. However, it does not solve the return trip challenges for East Coast travelers. The bottom line is with only a two-flight schedule we simply have holes in our schedule that make it a challenge at times.
The Port hopes with continued passenger growth we can obtain an additional flight. Quite frankly, it will be a tough sell as Walla Walla is one of the smallest markets Alaska Airlines serves. The trend is small markets are losing air service entirely to regional-based airports. Walla Walla is bucking that trend thanks to forward-looking, community-minded citizens who travel from the Walla Walla Regional Airport whenever possible.
Jennifer Skoglund has been manager of the Walla Walla Regional Airport since 2009. Previous to that she held various leadership roles at the airport dating back to 1999. She is a graduate of Washington State University with a degree in business administration. She currently serves on the executive committee of the Washington Airport Managers Association.