Harbor Air Declines Scheduled Olympia Service to Sea-Tac and Portland Airports

“The research conducted jointly earlier this year by the Port of Olympia and Harbor Air showed that the area’s market for scheduled air service between the Port’s Olympia Regional Airport and Seattle-Tacoma and Portland international airports has strengthened. But the service will not be forthcoming in the immediate future.Harbor Air has decided not to inaugurate service between the two international airports and Olympia. Service by the regional air carrier could have begun as early as January.After holding open the possibility of establishing the service sometime in the future, Harbor Air said it is focusing at this time on servicing other selected Northwest markets as part of its alliance with Alaska Airlines and Horizon Air.Both the Port and Harbor Air will continue to monitor the Olympia area’s air passenger market as the Thurston County area’s residential and business population continue to grow and Interstate 5 congestion, airport parking costs and other transportation-related difficulties continue to worsen for commuting to the larger airports.In addition, the Port has resolved to continue dialogs with several companies interested in bringing scheduled charter service to Olympia in the near future.“I’m disappointed about Harbor Air’s decision because I feel there is a strong South Sound,” said Port Commissioner Steve Pottle. “Study after study has shown this to be the case. There are a lot of state government, business people and general citizen travelers here. All would benefit by having a direct air service.”Pottle is a businessman who travels frequently. He said he would jump at the chance to fly from the Port’s regional airport in Tumwater rather than drive on I-5 either to Sea-Tac or Portland to catch a flight. He said it is expensive to waste time on the freeway, pay airport parking fees and absorb the expense of overnight lodging and extra meals when catching an early morning flight.“State government as well as state government employees would economically benefit [from direct air service],” Pottle said. “Also benefiting would be a lot of business travelers flying both east and south and the general citizenry who take long vacations and trips.“There’s a strong market here,” Pottle said, “and I hope Harbor Air will re-look at the market and find a way to bring service to this community.”Gary Soule, Harbor Air’s vice president of Planning and Development, said the company was still excited about possibly providing an Olympia air service sometime in the future.“However, our aggressive plan to move in as quick as January 2000 presented some major obstacles in itself,” Soule said. “Harbor is faced with a number of opportunities throughout the Northwest and in Southern Oregon and Northern California.“We’re not saying Olympia is not a viable location [for future passenger service],” Soule said. “But today, Harbor is a growing and evolving company that has to give consideration to multiple markets.”Soule expressed appreciation for the Port’s assistance in conducting market research and said the carrier will continue to develop a relationship with the Port. The objective, he said, is to make certain everything is in place should the service become a reality in the future.“We don’t want to come and fail in Olympia or any other market we set our sights on today,” Soule said. “We want to do our research to the level that absolutely guarantees Harbor and Olympia a successful air service.”“We’re very encouraged that a respected carrier like Harbor Air identified us as one of the prime markets that it is interested in and focused on us for some market research along with considering other markets,” said Port of Olympia Executive Director Nick Handy. “We’re also encouraged to learn our market is stronger.”The joint study demonstrated the importance of overcoming the ill effect of Harbor Air’s withdrawal from service to Olympia four years ago after a presence of more than two years.“The prior failures of air service at our airport are still resonating,” Handy said. “The importance of timing and the importance of having success the next time we have air service are more important than we realized. The most important thing is to have our market ready and the time right for the next startup. We want the next service to be durable and the service to last and grow.“It’s only a matter of time until we are a market that’s really right for our own service,” Handy said. “Our survey indicates there is a strong desire on the part of business people and general citizens to use the service and there is a strong willingness on the part of the state to contract for bulk volume flying of state government personnel.””