The Chelan Douglas Regional Port Authority is asking for an extension of its federal grant to secure airline service from the San Francisco Bay Area to Pangborn Airport. 

The Small Community Air Service Development Grant has been in place for that purpose since 2017 and is about to expire next month. 

Port Authority CEO Jim Kuntz thinks the grant will likely be extended, given conditions caused by the pandemic. "I think with COVID and all the disruption with commercial air service, our assumption is that they will grant us an extension," said Kuntz. 

The Port has sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Transportation asking for an extension of the $750,000 grant. 

It's penned by Pangborn Airport Director Trent Moyers, and notes that factors outside the airport's control have delayed the process of getting a Bay Area flight.  

It says the pandemic and subsequent pilot retirements have led to pilot shortages at regional airlines, which has made new network service difficult to secure. 

The letter goes on to say 10 U.S. airports have lost all airline service and 107 have lost more than 25 percent of regional capacity, with Pangborn being one of those 107 airports. 

Pangborn has had as many as three daily flights to Seattle through Alaska Airlines as recently as earlier this year with 228 daily departing seats. The airport now has just one daily flight, which translates to a 67 percent reduction in capacity. Moyers' letter states that the reason for the loss is the pilot shortage, not a lack of demand. 

As it stands, the federal grant to get Bay Area service has local matching funds from 91 organizations totaling more than $400,000. The Port has collected money for the project and is holding the funds in an escrow account. 

Kuntz said the pilot shortage will ease in the upcoming summer, and he's under the impression that Alaska Airlines is considering where it can fly into that has no financial risk for the airline. 

He also said it'll be important to find out what other similar size airports are doing to beef up business as the pilot shortage relaxes. Kuntz said he's been told that airports that are offering revenue guarantees to airlines will be the first to get service. 

He told the Port Commissioners that businesses which depend on the Port for economic development are highly concerned about airline service. 

"I think that's your number one constituent concern about the Regional Port (is) more air service, the sooner the better," Kuntz said. "And if that's the top priority of the people you report to, you've got to figure out a strategy on how to be competitive. 

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