Regional Airline Starting Up at Bellingham, Wash., Airport

The Bellingham International Airport has landed a newly formed airline that hopes to offer passenger air service within a year.

Western Airlines has signed a lease with the Port of Bellingham to open its corporate offices at the airport's commercial terminal. The company intends to offer direct flights to places other than Seattle and Las Vegas, which are already being offered at the airport.

"We plan on offering regular flights out of Bellingham by the end of 2006," Tronsdal said. "Travelers from north Seattle up to British Columbia are very anxious for an airline alternative. We believe travelers will fly from Bellingham when given the choice, and Western intends to give them that choice."

During the certification process, the company will make final decisions on what type of aircraft to use and what the initial destination cities will be.

Jerry Welch, president of Western Airlines, said they are looking at destinations across the West Coast, as well as airports in Utah, Arizona and Nevada. Much of what they decide will depend on what they think local travelers want.

"The trend in the airline industry continues toward low-fare, low-overhead, regional-based airlines with routes based essentially on the needs and wants of the traveler in the region," Welch said.

He said the plan is to pattern Western Airlines after other airlines that have done well offering direct flights out of smaller airports, such as Frontier and Jet Blue. Welch said the company has completed its first round of funding from local investors.

The lease is potentially good news for port officials, who have been hearing for years from the public about the need for more travel choices at the airport. Currently Allegiant Air Service and Horizon Air offer commercial service out of Bellingham.

"People in our community have asked for additional air service and we believe this presents an excellent opportunity to provide new service," said Port Commission President Doug Smith. "Last year we added Allegiant Air Service to Las Vegas, which has been very successful, and our passenger studies show there still is considerable unmet demand for flights to other destinations."

Both Welch and Tronsdal have ties to the region. Welch is the owner and founder of Commercial Aircraft Interiors, an FAA repair station for commercial aircraft interiors, located in Burlington. Tronsdal is a Skagit County resident with a commercial aviation background.

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