Alaska wins approval for new nonstop between Portland and D.C.'s Reagan National

By Gordon Oliver, Columbian business editor

Published:

Updated: May 14, 2012, 5:29 PM

 

Alaska Airlines has won a coveted slot in the crowded air travel queue to serve Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, and will soon be providing daily nonstop service to Washington from Portland International Airport.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced Monday his approval for the new service, and for new nonstop service to Reagan National from San Francisco, Austin, Texas, and San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Securing the flight was the Port of Portland’s highest domestic service priority, said Bill Wyatt, the Port of Portland’s executive director. Portland had been the largest U.S. market without existing or planned nonstop service to Reagan National, Wyatt said in a statement. Some 13,000 people submitted letters to the Department of Transportation in support of the carrier’s application, Alaska Airlines said.

Reagan National is the closest airport to the heart of the nation’s capital. Dulles International Airport in Washington’s Virginia suburbs is about 25 miles from the heart of the city.

In Washington state, political leaders from both parties joined economic development and tourism leaders in declaring the new service a potential economic boon for the Portland metropolitan region. “It says the region is important,” Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., told The Columbian. “It will help attract businesses to the region and will help keep them there.”

Cantwell’s office said that some 3 million Washington residents flew out of PDX last year, a volume second only to Sea-Tac airport.

Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Camas, said she had supported the Portland-Reagan National service as a member of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.

“I certainly hope this means I’ll get to see more visitors from Southwest Washington whenever I’m back in the nation’s capital,” she said in a prepared statement.

Alaska said Monday that it will begin the new service by Sept. 8. The Seattle-based airline said it will begin ticket sales after it completes negotiations with Reagan National officials on flight times for the new service, which will include one daily flight each direction.

The four new nonstops are allowed under the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, signed by President Barack Obama on Feb. 14. The law created eight daily slot exemptions — or four round-trip flights — at Reagan National to serve cities farther than 1,250 miles from Washington. That law gave priority to airlines that currently provide little or no service at Reagan National, Cantwell said.

For service to and from Portland, Alaska is an ideal provider because of its extensive network of Alaska Air and Horizon Air feeder service to PDX from cities across the West, said Cantwell, who is chair of the Senate’s Aviation Subcommittee.

In addition to the four new flights, four airlines swapped flights within the 1,250-mile boundary for nonstop flights outside that perimeter. The new long-distance nonstops to Reagan National are an American flight for Los Angeles; Delta service for Salt Lake City; United service for San Francisco, and U.S. Airways service for San Diego.