News

Air service returns to Oak Harbor

A Seattle airline will begin regular air service from Oak Harbor’s Wes Lupien Airport to Seattle May 22.

Kenmore Air will offer four round-trip flights daily from the airport on Monroe Landing Road to Boeing Field in Seattle, with a free dedicated shuttle bus to Sea-Tac Airport. In all, the airline estimates the transit will take riders 40 minutes from Oak Harbor to Sea-Tac at an introductory rate of $29 one way.

Harbor Air was the last company to provide similar air service from Oak Harbor. The company stopped operating in 2001.

“Based on the reaction we’ve had, everyone is very excited, as are we,” said Craig O’Neill, director of marketing and sales for Kenmore Air. “Clearly there’s a need for reliable transportation off island.”

Sharon Hart, executive director of the Island County Economic Development Council, has worked hard for years to restore the service. She said she constantly gets calls from people who want local air service. Restoring the flights has been a top priority of the EDC.

She’s thrilled that Kenmore Air will finally fill the void.

“Transportation links to an island location are extremely important to the economy,” she said.

Hart added that air service is especially important for the Navy. About 65 percent of Harbor Air’s business was Navy customers.

“We haven’t had air service for so long,” she said, “we’ll need to change some habits.”

Others have doubts. Mike Lauver is the co-owner of Whidbey Sea-Tac Shuttle, a van shuttle service that will be in competition with Kenmore Air.

“On the one hand, we welcome the return of air service,” he said, “but we are very skeptical.”

Lauver points out that complicated litigation over the ownership and control of the airport continues in court, though Kenmore worked out an operating agreement with all of the disputed parties.

Lauver said his company analyzed providing air service from the airport but found that it simply wasn’t viable. Also, Lauver feels that his van service is simply the better alternative. Whidbey Sea-Tac shuttle has seven roundtrips per day with nine stops on the island, from the Navy base to Clinton. It costs from $31 to $36 one way for an adult and is guaranteed to get there in less than two hours and 15 minutes.

Kenmore Air has been working for the past few months with the Navy, the FAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the disputed owners of the airport to get the flights up and flying.

Thanks to support from the Navy and members of Congress, the FAA expedited authorization of instrument landing approach procedures at the airport, allowing safe arrivals and departures in inclement weather.

“Hats off to Captain Abernethy,” Hart said. “He was very supportive.”

Tim Brooks, director of operations for Kenmore Air, said the litigation over ownership of the airport hasn’t been settled, but an Island County judge recently appointed a receiver to collect rents and fees.

“At least that’s one step forward,” he said.

Although Kenmore Air has long been known for its float planes, the company operates a fleet of Cessna Caravan propjets.

O’Neill said the company will probably increase the $29 introductory rate “as the market develops.”

Travel can be booked online at www.KenmoreAir.com or 1-866-435-9524.

You can reach Jessie Stensland at jstensland@whidbeynewstimes.com or 675-6611.

Community Events, April 2014

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