United to end Redmond-Portland flights

Service to Portland still available on Alaska Airlines

By Joseph Ditzler / The Bulletin / @josefditzler

Published May 28, 2014 at 12:01AM

United Express will eliminate its three daily, direct flights between Portland and Redmond after Sept. 1, officials said Tuesday.

The airline also will be ending direct flights from Portland to Eugene and Seattle, said Marissa Snow, spokeswoman for SkyWest Airlines, which operates those flights for United Airlines.

United Express’ direct flights from Redmond to San Francisco and Redmond to Denver will continue, she said.

Snow said the flights between Portland and Redmond, Eugene and Seattle will be discontinued “due to underperformance in the markets.”

United will contact customers with flights booked beyond Sept. 1 to make other accommodations, she wrote in an email Tuesday.

The airline’s decision does not mean an end to flights from Redmond Airport to Portland. Alaska Airlines operates four nonstop flights daily from Portland to Redmond through its affiliate Horizon Air, according to its online flight schedule.

“We’ll still have service, but this is an economic decision,” said Jon Stark, Redmond office manager for Economic Development for Central Oregon. “One we knew was coming.”

Alana Hughson, president and CEO of the Central Oregon Visitors Association, said the loss of the United Express flights was expected because of SkyWest’s decision to replace its short-haul turboprop aircraft with more efficient jet aircraft.

“Any change in service always has a significant impact,” Hughson said Tuesday. “We always prefer adding seats to losing seats. But we’ve expected this for quite some time.”

She said the loss of United Express service from Portland to Redmond provides Alaska Airlines an opportunity to increase service.

“Our hope is that with the withdrawal of United Express from that route, there will be incentive for Horizon and Alaska to add seats to that route,” she said.

SkyWest spokesman Wes Horrocks said the Redmond route, “from what we’ve seen on a historical trend,” performed poorly in terms of revenue. Plus, the airline is replacing its Embraer 120 Brasilia turboprops, the aircraft that flies those routes, with Bombardier CRJ-200 regional jets.

The Embraer seats 30; the Bombardier seats 50, but costs more to fly. Using it on the Redmond-Portland route did not make financial sense, Horrocks said. He said the SkyWest flight from Redmond to San Francisco, which employs both the Embraer and the Bombardier, will use the jet solely beginning Sept. 2.

Also, the Federal Aviation Administration in February enacted new regulations reducing, in some cases, the amount of time air crews may fly, said Bob Noble, the Redmond Airport interim director. The change creates additional cost, especially on short-haul routes such as Portland to Redmond, he said.

The combination of changes in aircraft and regulations with a marginally profitable route all factored into the decision to eliminate the Redmond service, according to sources interviewed for this report.

“You never like to lose flights,” said EDCO Executive Director Roger Lee . “It’s just a matter of time before these small turboprops are no longer in the fleets of most airlines.”

Horizon flies the Bombardier Q400 turboprop on its Portland to Redmond route. But it’s a 76-seat aircraft, making it a more profitable plane to fly, Lee said.

“Horizon’s second-largest business out of Portland is Redmond. It’s a very active market for Horizon,” he said. “They’re in it for the long haul with that airframe.”

— Reporter: 541-617-7815, jditzler@bendbulletin.com