SeaPort connected, adding bag check time

Passengers board a SeaPort Airlines flight to Portland in 2014 at the Eastern Oregon Regional Airport in Pendleton. SeaPort Airlines operated a passenger service at Astoria Regional Airport, but left when state subsidies dried up.

The Port of Astoria has been approached about an air taxi service at the Astoria Regional Airport.

The Oregon Aviation Industries Cluster Group, an association focused on aviation-based economic development, is applying for a grant to explore air taxi service around the state. The association is trying to partner with airports in Astoria, John Day and Newport to start the service.

The concept would involve planes ready to fly people upon request. The model has been used in other regions, such as Blackbird Air’s on-demand flights throughout Southern California.

Gale Jacobs, director of the association, admits air taxi service is a new concept without much traction or demand. “But if smaller airplanes can be subsidized to fly people like Uber, there may be something workable,” he said.

Rides would be subsidized by a 2 cents per gallon aviation fuel tax approved by the state Legislature in 2015, a quarter of which is targeted for air service in rural Oregon. The association’s grant request to the Oregon Department of Aviation’s Rural Oregon Airport Relief Program can ask for up to $500,000 at a time, Jacobs said.

Only Portland, Eugene, Redmond and Medford have scheduled air service. Pendleton has a commuter connection to Portland.

SeaPort Airlines had previously operated a passenger service from Astoria Regional Airport to Portland and Seattle. But the carrier ended service once state subsidies went away and passenger fares couldn’t support the flights. The airport still receives calls periodically from people wanting to get to and from Portland, but interest often cools once they hear the price, said Gary Kobes, the airport manager.

“That’s the reality for most rural locations,” he said. “If you look at the area around Portland, anything that’s within an hour and a half driving time of Portland doesn’t have any scheduled service, and sometimes it’s up to two and a half hours driving time.”

Kobes will bring the association’s proposal before the Port Commission. The grant application is due this month and needs the formal support of at least one entity with an airport, Jacobs said.

Getting support for the grant is not a high probability, and the state could decide to use the fuel tax money elsewhere, Jacobs said.

“I think if the right things come together,” he said, “it could provide a useful service that has worked in other parts of the country.”

Edward Stratton is a reporter for The Daily Astorian. Contact him at 971-704-1719 or estratton@dailyastorian.com.

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