Boutique gets four-year extension for Pendleton air service

Boardings have increased from 400 per month to 1,000 since service began in 2017
Antonio Sierra

East Oregonian

Published on August 15, 2018 1:55PM

Passengers disembark the afternoon flight of Boutique Airlines in May 2018 at the Eastern Oregon Regional Airport in Pendleton.

EO file photo

Passengers disembark the afternoon flight of Boutique Airlines in May 2018 at the Eastern Oregon Regional Airport in Pendleton.

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Following a year-and-a-half honeymoon period that saw the Pendleton airport substantially expand its passenger traffic, the city and Boutique Air agreed to settle in for another four years.

At a Tuesday meeting, the Pendleton City Council unanimously voted to award a four-year, $10.4 million Essential Air Service contract to the Boutique. Although the U.S. Department of Transportation foots the bill, the federal government agency follows the local community’s direction.

Presenting in front of the council, Boutique CEO Shawn Simpson touted the company’s passenger numbers in Pendleton, which rose from 400 boardings in December 2016 when Boutique to more than 1,000 boardings more recently.

According to Boutique, the San Francisco company has increased Pendleton traffic by 72.4 percent versus SeaPort Airlines during each carrier’s last 12 months of operation. On average, Boutique has increased passenger traffic by 158 percent whenever it takes over an airport’s air service, Simpson said.

Simpson said Boutique has developed a codeshare agreement with United Airlines, meaning the flight between Pendleton and Portland plus the connecting flights out of PDX can be booked through United. He added that similar agreements are being negotiated with two other major airlines.

Boutique serves 30 airports across the U.S., but Pendleton to Portland is the company’s only route in the Northwest. Simpson said Boutique is exploring expanding into other Northwest communities like Seattle, Boise, North Bend, Newport, Walla Walla, and Lewiston, Idaho.

With Boutique’s recent record of success, the council asked Simpson if he was considering serving Pendleton with an aircraft larger than the eight-passenger plane it currently uses.

Simpson said Boutique could deploy a larger plane to Pendleton, but the company estimates it would cost an additional $1.3 million over the life of the contract.

Despite the increase in passengers, Simpson said 70 percent of Boutique’s revenue on the Pendleton to Portland is route still comes from the EAS subsidy. He said the DOT is more amenable to receiving requests for more trips per week with the smaller aircraft than spending more money for a bigger aircraft.

Offering a larger aircraft was one of the top pitches from Boutique’s only competitor for the EAS contract: Silver Airways.

Based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Silver offered to serve Pendleton with a 34-passenger aircraft that would transport passengers from Pendleton to Portland twice per day.

Airport Manager Steve Chrisman reported that Silver’s bid would have been $5.4 million per year versus Boutique’s $2.5 million and the larger plane would create additional costs to the city, like an additional $1 million to $1.5 million for fire support and hiring a private company to provide security checks.

“It really wasn’t a close race,” he said.

Additionally, Chrisman said the Pendleton Airport Commission recommended Boutique over Silver because the latter had some recent turnover in management, fewer flights per day would allow for less passenger flexibility, and the loss of Boutique would also mean the loss of its car rental service.

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Contact Antonio Sierra at asierra@eastoregonian.com or 541-966-0836.



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