ENTERPRISE - SeaPort Airlines flew one of its planes from Pendleton to Enterprise and La Grande Wednesday, hoping to encourage Wallowa and Union County residents to fly from Pendleton or to schedule group charter flights from home.
CEO Kent Craford, Marketing Manager Matt Kyler and SeaPort co-owner John Beardsley conducted open houses - actually, open aircraft - at the airports in Enterprise and La Grande.
Also helping show off the Swiss-made Pilatus PC-12 was pilot Rob McKinney, the year-old company's chief operating officer. About a dozen people showed up at each stop to tour the executive ship. It was configured for six passengers on this flight but can accommodate up to eight. SeaPort's commuter planes carry nine passengers.
The flight from Pendleton took 20 minutes. Don Swart, former owner of the Wallowa County Chieftain newspaper, and his wife, Evelyn, were among those who said it takes people about 2 1/4 hours to drive between Enterprise and Pendleton.
Between the open houses, the SeaPort team took a walking tour of downtown Enterprise, then dined with the Wallowa County Rotary Club at St. Catherine's Parish Hall.
Speaking to 37 Rotarians and guests, Craford described how SeaPort has grown in the past year. The company, a division of Alaska Juneau Aeronautics Inc., started serving Seattle and Portland last June 30. In December the company added Pendleton as a destination and, in March, tacked on Astoria and Newport.
"We got started in this business because we were fed-up commuters," he said. "We recognized a need - a need that was not being met."
Craford said SeaPort has carried 19,000 passengers in the past year, and has experienced double-digit growth monthly.
"We've actually thrived and survived in our first year," he said. "I think the reason is we've devised a better mousetrap."
Part of that improvement is the nine-seat configuration of commuter aircraft. With nine or fewer passengers per flight, SeaPort is not subject to federal Transportation Security Administration screenings.
Although SeaPort is growing, and soon plans to begin serving four Arkansas communities, plans don't include scheduled service to other Eastern Oregon cities.
"If you got the next Google plant here, we might talk," Craford told the Enterprise Rotarians.
Instead, he encouraged the group to organize group charter flights, which he said SeaPort could provide. The airline charges from $1,400 per hour for its nine-place commuter planes and $1,700 per hour for it eight-passenger executive-configured aircraft.
"If you're taking a group, it can be pretty economical," he said.
After Craford mentioned that folks in Baker City were trying to develop a "travel bank" that would guarantee SeaPort passengers throughout the year, Rotarian Mike Koloski had another idea.
"If you'd locate in La Grande, you'd get Baker City, Enterprise and La Grande," he said. "You'd get a three-fer."
Evelyn Swart said she'd like SeaPort to conduct a survey of potential airline passengers from Enterprise. She estimated that at any time, probably six vehicles from Enterprise were en route to Portland.
Craford suggested arranging for a regional travel agent to be a clearinghouse for SeaPort charters.
"That is the best path for getting regular service in a community where no airline would schedule regular service," he said.