The Chelan Douglas Regional Port Authority is looking at options for trying to boost airline service to Pangborm Airport. 

The Port operates the airport, and Port commissioners decided Tuesday to delay any agreement with their current consultant, Volaire Aviation, on how and if the firm will be used to develop commercial air service.  

Volaire has proposed continuing to work under a monthly retainer of $4,000 or representing the port on an a la carte basis for specific projects. Commissioners were mostly complimentary of the firm's performance, but expressed frustration that air service to Wenatchee has long been limited to a single carrier with limited fights.

Part of the information supplied to port commissioners at their Tuesday meeting from Volaire was data from the Regional Airline Association showing a pilot shortage that emerged during the COVID-10 pandemic that is getting more severe. The current gap of 13,500 between pilot supply and demand on a national level will grow to 24,000 by 2026. 

Port Commissioner Richard DeRock mentioned that major airlines are expanding regardless and are stripping pilots out of small markets and placing them into large markets.  He believes the Port should focus on trying to change federal regulation through the legislative process before spending money on efforts to attract new air service. 

Another possible challenge to expansion of flights to Wenatchee is the lack of an air traffic control tower at Pangborn Airport. DeRock mentioned conversations specifically with Allegient Airlines in which the carrier had stated its pilots have a preference to have airport towers at destinations they fly to. 

Port CEO Jim Kuntz said the Port needs to figure out what kind of an issue the lack of a tower brings. He noted that the Army Air National Guard, which is moving its operations to Pangborn from Fairchild Air Force Base near Spokane, will present a new and different type of aircraft travel at the airport. 

But he said there are a lot of successful airports, including Pullman, that operate without a tower. 

"Whether a tower itself is an impediment, let's get an answer to that and then work accordingly," said Kuntz. "There's a lot of airports that are non-towered that have pretty successful commercial service." 

DeRock said the Port needs to address any weaknesses the airport has before engaging in conversations with airlines. 

"I'm much more interested in finding that out than I am setting up meetings with airlines that are not going anywhere because we're just not strong enough at that point," said DeRock. "So, the question is can we make ourselves stronger, so that when we're in a position, then we go back to those meetings."  

Commissioners agreed to table any decision on a contract with Volaire until they decide how to move forward in attracting air service. 

"If we truly want to change the direction of how we're looking for a second airline, then we really need to talk about that before we can sign anybody to a contract," said Commissioner JC Baldwin. 

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