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Port eyeing airline service

The time is ripe, port officials say, to talk of bringing a regional air carrier back to Bremerton National Airport.

For many years, the Port of Bremerton has been on the losing side of a tug-of-war between its desire to have commuter air service out of the airport and economic pressures that have caused one airline after another to fold their tents and leave Bremerton National. But now Fred Salisbury, who manages the airport facilities, believes he might have a way to attract — and retain — regional air carriers.

“We get calls every day from people who want commuter airlines,” Salisbury said.

They key, Salisbury said, is putting together a task force of those who would be the prime supporters of a regional airline — business travelers, Kitsap and North Mason officials and even the Navy. In addition, Salisbury said, this time the port is not going to make the mistake of focusing on SeaTac as its prime air link.

Every airline that folded, Salisbury said, offered service between Bremerton National and SeaTac. The problem with SeaTac, he explained, is it’s too close and too expensive to be desirable as a destination. Kitsap residents already have plenty of alternatives besides flying into SeaTac — it’s not surprising none of the previous airlines made any money, Salisbury said.

“It’s tough to compete with that $15 Kitsap Airporter,” he pointed out.

A better choice, Salisbury said, might be to offer service to airports that could serve as destinations as well as hubs. Most regional jets have ranges between 700 and 2,000 miles, he said, and could easily make the trip between Bremerton and locations such as Portland, Ore., San Francisco, Calif. and even Salt Lake City, Utah.

Another alternative could be to offer puddle-jumper-type flights to local destinations such as the San Juans. Salisbury said during the summer he gets lots of calls from people looking for ways to get to the San Juan Islands.

“There’s just a whole lot of other ideas that can be looked at,” Salisbury said. “It just depends on what the community wants.”

The purpose of the task force, he explained, is to determine exactly what it is the greater Kitsap community wants and, more importantly, what it will spend money on. With the economy the way it is, Salisbury said, airlines aren’t simply going to show up and take Bremerton National for a test drive. Airlines today need to know there is a confirmed market for their services and a low likelihood of failure in order to make any sort of investment in new territory.

“They have to want to come out here,” he said. “It’s too risky for them to buy it and see if it works.”

Salisbury plans to spend the summer recruiting those who share an interest in bringing regular airline service to Kitsap County. Ideally, he hopes the task force will have its first meeting sometime in September.

Although many airlines are still trying to recover from the fallout after the Sept. 11 attacks, Salisbury said he sees signs many air service markets — particularly the regional markets are about to “explode.” As that happens, Salisbury wants to make sure the port is positioned to make itself marketable to potential providers.

“In the next year or so, I believe we’re ripe to become competitive,” he said.

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