SEATTLE — On June 30 SeaPort Airlines officially launched direct downtown-to-downtown air service between Seattle and Portland, utilizing Pilatus PC-12 aircraft. Kent Craford, CEO of SeaPort Air Group, which operates the Part 135 scheduled carrier, comments that “we’re catering to the briefcase traveler, not the suitcase traveler.” While Craford says the company’s focus at present is on making the Seattle-Portland run a success, he doesn’t rule out exploring similar opportunities down the road. In time, it could be start-ups like SeaPort Airlines that present an air service option as the major carriers continue to pull back their operations.
“We’re really focused right now, hence the name,” explains Craford. “We see this as a good market; it will take some time to develop. It’s new and different. Right now we want to focus on developing this.”
“We do, however, have some opportunities that we can explore in the Seattle/Alaska market.”
SeaPort’s initial plan calls for eight round trips daily every weekday and four round trips on weekends. This summer the company was offering introductory round-trip flights for $149. “We’re not blowing the doors off,” says Craford, “but we’re meeting expectations so far.”
The carrier is a dba of Alaska Juneau Aeronautics, an FAA Part 135-certified carrier with 25 years’ experience in commercial aviation. Alaska Juneau Aeronautics and SeaPort’s sister airline, Wings of Alaska, are wholly-owned subsidiaries of SeaPort Air Group, LLC. “We’re a long-term player,” says Craford.
He explains that the Portland-Seattle route, while only 150 direct land miles apart, offers travelers challenges because of the terrain, weather, and a highly congested Interstate 5 that connects the two. The unique nature of the route also led to the decision to use pressurized PC-12s rather than Cessna Caravans, which it operates in Alaska.
“It’s a short distance route, but it’s a challenging weather environment,” relates Craford. “The Northwest is not a hospitable place to fly. We knew we needed a pressurized aircraft. Some people questioned why we’re not using a Caravan — we operate Caravans and they’re great airplanes. But you might as well be taking the bus; it’s so slow, for one. The passengers wouldn’t accept that.”
“Our value proposition is all about time. While the PC-12 is an expensive airplane, it’s worth it because of the comfort, speed, and reliability.”
At Seattle, SeaPort Airlines is operating on a short-term lease out of the refurbished terminal at Boeing Field/King County Municipal Airport (BFI), located just several miles from downtown. At Portland International Airport, SeaPort is a subtenant of fixed base operator Flightcraft, and operates out of the FBO’s old executive terminal building. The carrier does some maintenance outsourcing with Flightcraft, which also performs all of its into-plane refueling for the new routes.
Meanwhile, in July the company announced that it would enter a carbon offset program in association with the Columbia Land Trust (www.columbialandtrust.org), which uses financial contributions to identify priority conservation lands to purchase to offset fuel useage.
Comments CEO Craford, “By operating one of the most efficient aircraft in commercial aviation, not only are we able to control our jet fuel costs, but we’re also able to go one step further and mitigate the environmental impact of our fuel consumption.”
To accommodate passengers whose flights were canceled, the airline is operating a number of flights on affected routes with larger aircraft that have additional seating capacity.
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