Hill hopes to thaw talks between SeaPort, TSA

<p>Passengers disembark from a SeaPort Airlines flight in December of 2008 at the Eastern Oregon Regional Airport in Pendleton. The airport and SeaPort are seeking cooperation from the Transportation Security Administration to facilitate a deal with a larger airline.</p>

The effort to broaden air travel out of the Eastern Oregon Regional Airport remains stalled since SeaPort Airlines President Rob McKinney announced a pending partnership with a larger carrier in April.

But a Pendleton city councilwoman said she hopes to get things rolling once more by bringing McKinney to the table with the Transportation Security Administration.

 Jane Hill said Monday she expects within three weeks to have representatives of the city meet with McKinney and Mike Irwin, TSA federal security director for Oregon; a representative of the Port of Portland, which oversees the Portland International Airport; and U. S. Sen. Ron Wyden’s state office director.

McKinney said TSA cooperation in allowing SeaPort to create or access a security checkpoint is critical to the pending deal with a larger airline operating out of Portland that he declined to name. SeaPort, the lone carrier serving Pendleton, flies four round-trip flights daily between Pendleton and Portland.

City authorities hope to revive declining SeaPort passenger numbers by more effectively marketing air travel out of Pendleton. McKinney said the partnership would allow conveniences such as e-ticketing and through-baggage checks, currently unavailable in Pendleton, that may entice more travelers.

In one significant move, the Portland airport had agreed to exempt SeaPort from fees to lease a baggage area, McKinney has said. SeaPort’s nine-passenger aircraft don’t carry the same amount of baggage as larger carriers.

“In order for the fee exemption to take place, the other airlines would need to vote and approve SeaPort’s exemption request,” said Steve Johnson, a spokesman for the Port of Portland.

 That would save the airline burdensome costs, but TSA has thus far declined to make allowances for a security checkpoint in Pendleton or to allow SeaPort to access one in Portland. SeaPort does not operate a checkpoint in Pendleton. McKinney said TSA allows some charter airlines to operate their own checkpoint, although SeaPort does not qualify as a charter airline.

On the surface, SeaPort and TSA appear to have moved on.

McKinney said he would turn his attention to Washington, D.C., and hope to find accommodation there. “We’ve hired a lobbying firm to push this forward,” he said.

A spokeswoman for TSA in Oregon said the question of security for SeaPort at Pendleton has gone beyond Irwin.

“These issues are dealt with on a national, policy level,”?said Lorie Dankers. “Therefore, federal security director Irwin cannot speak to them.“

Hill, a former staff member for Wyden, D-Ore., said she hopes the discussion will identify who has authority to address Pendleton airport security and what the best practices are.

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Contact City Editor Joseph Ditzler at jditzler@eastoregonian.com or 541-966-0828.

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