Making new connections between the Bay Area and north-central Washington
Business in Silicon Valley draws many travelers to the San Francisco Bay Area, even from the rural areas of north-central Washington. And with expanding tech operations in the Quincy Valley, growing business draws people from San Francisco. Pangborn Memorial Airport in East Wenatchee, Washington, saw an opportunity to expand service with regularly-scheduled round-trip flights to San Francisco and Microsoft saw an opportunity to help the community.
Facilitating connections to rural Washington
Historically, the small airport provided only a few daily trips to Seattle, but a recent extension of its airstrip has enabled Pangborn to mitigate weather delays and handle larger aircraft. Evaluating its business, Pangborn found that 60 to 70 people commute daily between Wenatchee and the Bay Area, by way of Seattle. “We have 62,000 passenger boardings a year, a 7.5 percent increase over last year,” says Chelan County Port District Executive Director, Jim Kuntz. Being able to fly directly to or from Pangborn would shorten commute times by three to four hours, allow for easier non-work travel, and reduce automobile traffic.
Supporting a datacenter community
With the support of the Port of Chelan County, the Port of Douglas County, and the community, Pangborn sought to raise $400,000 to be eligible for a $750,000 federal Department of Transportation airport subsidy to fund a revenue guarantee for the route. “We had a lot of local support, and that was the key to getting this grant award from the federal side. Anywhere from $40,000 or $50,000 donations to $20 donations. It was just a very large scale of contributions from a wide range of people, and that’s where Microsoft stepped up to help,” according to Trent Moyers, Director of Pangborn Memorial Airport.
Because Wenatchee is the north-central Washington population center, its close ties with the Quincy community—only 30 miles away—make the investment valuable to Microsoft. With Microsoft’s $43,000 contribution, the community reached its $400,000 goal. “We showed that there was a demand for the service, that people were willing to open their wallets to support it, and we were fortunate in making that case seem reasonable to the DOT, who awarded us the $750,000 grant,” said Moyers.
Determining the route’s success
The new route will include a two-year revenue guarantee for the airline chosen to provide the service. As Moyers explains, “We’ve been speaking with airlines, letting them know that we’re going after this grant, if we’re successful that we’d be coming to talk to them about possible service. Now we’ll go back and talk to those same airlines again and see if we can’t negotiate a deal.” If it’s found that the route is unsuccessful, the project can be cut short. However, if the project is successful and the funds aren’t needed to supplement revenue, the dollars will be returned to contributors.