Continued records for air travel have airport flying high

And, as a result, affordable and dependable air service is available in the Walla Walla Valley.

·         Union Bulletin Editorial Board -   Nov. 20, 2016

How long can the stunning increases in air travel in and out of the Walla Walla Regional Airport continue? 

It’s hard to say. Just a few months ago we were wowed by the 30 percent increase in travel from June of this year from June of last year. 

Today, we are now amazed that another annual record for air service is about to be demolished. 

Let’s keep it going.

After reaching the 40,000-passenger threshold for the first time in 2015, this year is on pace to get close to the 50,000 mark. 

Airport Manager Jennifer Skoglund estimates Walla Walla will end the year with between 46,000 to 48,000 passengers. To this point of the year, about 39,000 folks have flown Alaska Airlines in or out of Walla Walla. 

“These are exciting numbers to share,” Skoglund said.

They are indeed.

It was only a few years ago the long-term viability of air service in Walla Walla was in serious jeopardy. Community, business and education leaders began working with Alaska to boost the passenger load so Alaska could make money and thus ensure air service would continue. 

The effort has come to fruition far sooner than most would have anticipated. 

Success has yielded success. As the number of passengers increased with the initial efforts, the number of flights per day increased. The passengers numbers are bolstered this year by the addition of a third flight and changes in scheduling that give long-distance travelers and day-trippers a chance to catch a late flight back to town. Not everyone is thrilled with midnight arrival time, but staying up a little later than normal seems to beat spending another night in a hotel. 

The number of people flying out from Walla Walla in October was 4,615, breaking the old record for that month by more than 800 passengers.     

The second largest October was last year when just short of 3,800 flew out of Walla Walla. 

“Apparently, our customers are pleased with the schedule,” said Port Commissioner Ron Dunning. 

Yet, the focus on making sure flying in and out of Walla Walla is an attractive and affordable option must remain. Talk of canceling flights or even service a few years ago seemed to come out of nowhere. The market for rural air service is clearly a fragile one. 

The efforts to boost air travel from month to month and year after year must continue even in the wake of the new records. Affordable and dependable air service remains essential to the Walla Walla Valley’s long-term economic success.