A team of city and community leaders are “cautiously optimistic” about returning commercial air service to Klamath Falls through SkyWest after pitching an incentive package to the airline on Tuesday valued at $850,000 in revenue guarantees and services.
The team, represented by City Manager Nathan Cherpeski, Crater Lake-Klamath Regional Airport Director John Barsalou, Discover Klamath Executive Director Jim Chadderdon, Klamath County Economic Development Association Executive Director Greg O’Sullivan, and Sky Lakes Medical Center Chief Executive Officer Paul Stewart, traveled to St. George, Utah, the home base of SkyWest, to make the pitch.
The pitch includes a commitment of $250,000 from the city of Klamath Falls, $250,000 from Klamath County, and $250,000 from Sky Lakes Medical Center, as well as $100,000 of in-kind marketing services from an unnamed resource, according to Barsalou.
Barsalou said local leaders compiled the incentive package within less than a month of PenAir’s exit from Klamath Falls. PenAir filed bankrutpcy in early August and has withdrawn from serving Klamath Falls.
“The fact that we got it together in three weeks’ time — They were very, very impressed with that,” Barsalou said. “They recognize that the community is standing behind the effort and the need for air service is a big deal.”
Barsalou said the incentive package is meant to attract the airline and provide enough support to ensure revenue goals can be met.
“We don’t even know if they need that much,” Barsalou said. “We had to make some assumptions and we went in with our best offer.”
If an agreement is made, SkyWest would fly 50-seat Canadair Regional Jet 200s between Crater Lake-Klamath Regional Airport and San Francisco International Airport. An expanded flight to Portland, depending on demand, was also a discussion topic during the meeting.
“Certainly I don’t want to set up the expectation for failure here but we are cautiously optimistic,” Barsalou said. “I came out of that meeting with a lot of hope, a lot more than when I went in.”
SkyWest still needs to conduct an internal route analysis to “crunch the numbers,” according to Barsalou, which could occur between now and mid-October. Local leaders plan to meet with the airline after the analysis is complete.
It might take some time, Barsalou said, and nothing is expected to happen soon.
“It’s not going to be next month,” Barsalou said.
“They want to make sure that they start strong and we want to make sure that they start strong. We want to make sure that this is done in a methodical and very specific way.
“I would hate for them to come in for three or four months and then it not work, and then have them leave,” Barsalou added. “That would be worse.”
If the city partners with SkyWest, Barsalou said there will be an increased proactive effort to fill the 50-seat jets. The 50-seat aircraft are larger than PenAir’s 340 Saab turboprop by about 20 seats.
As far as ticket prices, Barsalou said: “Oftentimes the airport doesn’t have a lot of control over what the airline charges. It’s an airline thing, it’s not an airport thing.”
He plans to continue marketing amenities offered at the airport through billboards and other marketing methods.
“We’re not done yet by any stretch, but I think we made some headway,” Barsalou said. “It’s been a team effort all along and it will continue to be that way.”