PORTLAND — SeaPort Airlines will discontinue its short-lived East Wenatchee-Yakima-Portland flights effective Dec. 15 for lack of travelers, mostly on the Yakima leg of the flight.
“The Wenatchee market did as well as we thought it would, but the Yakima market way underperformed,” said Tim Sieber, vice president of the company’s commercial operation.
Yakima is about a three-hour drive to Portland, compared to about five hours from Wenatchee.
Sieber said that closer proximity likely made SeaPort’s fares of $59 to $119 not attractive enough to entice travelers to fly instead of drive. Fares out of East Wenatchee’s Pangborn Memorial Airport were only slightly higher for the 95-minute flight.
Wenatchee travelers, alone, weren’t enough to sustain the flight, he said, and with sales to other destinations, particularly Alaska, entering the company’s typical winter slump, SeaPort officials decided they couldn’t keep the underperforming route going.
Ron Russ, Pangborn’s interim manager, said figures supplied by SeaPort show that flights that left Wenatchee were an average of 26 percent to 33 percent full.
He said airlines normally like to see this “load factor” in the 65-percent to 75-percent range.
The Portland-based airline flies the route with a nine-seat, single-engine Cessna 208 Caravan. It arrives and departs twice daily, Monday through Friday, with some service on Saturday.
Service to Pangborn began amid much fanfare in March, marking the first time since February 1998, when United Express stopped local service, that Pangborn has been served by two commercial airlines with regularly scheduled flights.
Ticket sales exceeded expectations in the early months, but had slumped by August, leading the airline to eliminate one of its morning departures.
“We believe that Wenatchee will be a functioning market, eventually” Sieber said, saying the company could one day revisit service to Pangborn, but he declined to say when.
Nor, he said, would the airline consider creating a route from Wenatchee to Portland via the busy Spokane International Airport, because it would draw business away from Alaska Airlines, the carrier that has flown the Pangborn to Seattle route for years.
Mark Urdahl, director of the Port of Chelan County, said the company’s decision was a disappointment but not a shock.
“The success or failure of any air carrier is how they perform in the market,” he said. “It’s important to remind people that they were not paid to serve the market here. The were given no subsidies and were paying the same rates and charges as Alaska.”
He added, “This was a stand-alone market deal and, unfortunately, it didn’t work out.”
Christine Pratt: 665-1173