At a time when a number of familiar faces have vanished beneath the surface and the survivors are struggling to keep their heads above water, you've got to admire anyone who would have the courage to launch a new airline.

But that's exactly what Kent Craford and his two partners have done with the creation of SeaPort Airlines. Their intent is to take advantage of rising operating costs and fill a niche in the process rather than becoming victims. They intend to do that by taking advantage of smaller planes and lower overhead.

For anyone who feels airlines have become distant and impersonal, SeaPort is seeking to create an operation where the customers feel a part of the family. That's certainly the impression left by Craford, who was here last week. He met one-on-one with potential customers to talk about the creation of workable flight schedules and the logistics of transporting everything and everyone from tropical fish and flowers to psychiatrists.

Craford is enthusiastic about his product.

"It's the kind of plane," said the young entrepreneur, "that's used by executives and movie stars."

He figures that once people try it, they'll be back.

In order to entice customers, SeaPort is offering a $75 one-way introductory fare. In the long run, in exchange for the "corporate jet feel," it's likely fares will be higher than those travelers experienced on Horizon.

Since SeaPort is not connected to another airline, one of the questions Craford will need to answer is whether or not his airline's fares will mesh with overall fares for long-distance flying or if they are simply an add-on.

With three flights a day, SeaPort will have a capacity of 27 passengers per day. Right now, about 20 passengers a day use the airport.

"The good thing about the small planes," said Craford, "is that it doesn't take a massive increase in volume to be able to add flights."

Knowing passenger numbers have dropped by 50 percent in recent years, Craford is anxious to get that business back. He wants to get people off the highways and into the air.

Since SeaPort starts its service in early December, one of Craford's first efforts will be to remind people that, in the winter, it's a lot easier to fly over the Columbia Gorge than drive through it.

Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Leslie Carnes is excited about the addition of flights.

"I can even envision people hopping on a plane, flying over to Round-Up or other special events in Pendleton, and then flying back that night," said Carnes.

SeaPort gives up a little in terms of convenience since it lands at the business airport - about 250 yards from the main terminal in Portland. But the airline intends to have van service available and valet parking for those departing Portland. Perhaps the feature that drew the most smiles during Craford's visit to Pendleton was the announcement that passengers needed to arrive just 15 minutes before departure.

For passengers going on from Portland, they'll have to go through security in the regular terminal - and handle their own luggage in Pendleton and again in Portland. But a lot of the passengers are simply just doing the Pendleton-Portland thing or vice versa and for them, there won't be any security checks. They'll just go on about their business once they land.

At a time when transportation ventures are at a crossroads, the timing seems right for new approaches.

No, passengers won't have a 76-passenger jet at their disposal nor will they have baggage service if they are continuing on a connecting flight.

But for those who are more concerned about convenience, accessibility and schedule options, we suspect SeaPort will fill their air travel needs.

Unsigned editorials are the opinion of the East Oregonian editorial board, comprised of Editor George Murdock, Associate Publisher Kathryn Brown, General Manager Wendy DalPez and Managing Editor Skip Nichols. Other columns, letters and cartoons on this page express the opinions of the authors and not necessarily that of the East Oregonian.

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