L.A. flight secured; what's next?

Central Oregon business leaders discuss future of regional air service

By Elon Glucklich / The Bulletin / @EGlucklich

Central Oregon business advocates scored a major win for the region this month, bringing in more than $400,000 in prepaid tickets from the community to secure daily flights from Redmond Municipal Airport to Los Angeles International Airport, starting in June.

What’s next for Redmond Airport?

Restoring service to the Phoenix area is one of several longer-term priorities. Five or 10 years down the road, a push further east to a market like Minneapolis could be possible.

Officials with Economic Development for Central Oregon, Redmond Airport and the Central Oregon Visitors Association discussed the future of regional air service during a Bend Chamber of Commerce-sponsored event at Bend Golf and Country Club on Friday morning.

Discussions of new service are all speculative at this point, EDCO Executive Director Roger Lee told a crowd of about 30. But economic development officials are always exploring new opportunities, he said.

For a smaller airport like Redmond, recruiting new air service is no easy task, and depends heavily on grant money and community fundraising efforts. Central Oregon’s pitch to American Airlines included the $404,000 in pre-paid American Airlines travel tickets, as well as funds from a $500,000 federal grant to offset expected operating losses for the airline in its first year of service. Advertising commitments and airline fee waivers brought the region’s total pitch to about $1.3 million.

It’s a necessary hurdle for small airports to clear, Lee said.

“We’ve had airlines tell us, ‘don’t even talk to us without $1 million’” in upfront commitments, Lee said.

Redmond-to-L.A. air service is set to start June 12, with a 50-seat jet departing Redmond each morning and returning in the evening. American Airlines has announced a two-year commitment.

One of the major short-term efforts now is to expand Central Oregon marketing efforts in Southern California, to ensure the flight secures both business and leisure travelers, said Alana Hughson, COVA president and CEO.

COVA expects to start an advertising campaign showcasing some of the reasons Los Angeles-area residents would want to travel here: wide open spaces, little traffic congestion and outdoor recreation.

“COVA’s role is to step into the Southern California market and tell the (roughly) 20 million people living there that we have an attractive destination,” Hughson said.