(Update: adding information and video)
It's RDM's most-requested destination to not have direct flights -- yet; American Airlines may come aboard
REDMOND, Ore. (KTVZ) – An $800,000 federal grant announced Tuesday will help Redmond Airport make a bid for its 13th direct destination – Dallas-Ft. Worth International Airport, the most-sought direct flight not yet available for Central Oregon air travelers, according to Airport Director Zach Bass.
Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., announced the grant to recruit, initiate and support landing the new route, a process used in the past for several other locations now being served out of Redmond.
“Expanded air links for the Redmond Airport strengthen the Central Oregon economy by adding options for visitors attracted by the region’s world-class recreation, and make it easier for local families wanting to connect with loved ones,” Wyden said in a news release. “I’m gratified that Redmond has secured this federal support, and will continue working to ensure the airport builds on its role as an essential infrastructure asset for the entire region.”
“Airports play an essential role in helping Oregonians stay connected with friends, family and our global economy,” Merkley said. “I’m pleased that this grant funding is headed to Redmond, where it will help connect Central Oregon to other major travel hubs, and make a real difference in the lives of our families and the vitality of our local economies. I will continue to do all that I can secure the infrastructure investments Oregonians and Oregon businesses need to get themselves or their products from Point A to Point B with ease.”
The U.S. Department of Transportation said the $800,000 grant from its Small Community Air Service Development Program will support a revenue guarantee and associated marketing program to recruit, initiate and back new air service to Dallas/Ft. Worth International Airport.
"The airport is excited to be able to offer all our businesses and customers a new destination,” Bass said in the senators' news release. “We know there is a strong link between Dallas and Central Oregon."
It’s not a done deal, to be sure, but the federal grant request did draw a letter of support six months ago from American Airlines, Bass said, though the process is “open to all the airlines.”
“We have been very successful with Phoenix a few years ago, Vegas and Los Angeles," Bass said. "They all use these grants. Sometimes we do it without a grant, but it does give us that first step for an airline to put in that new destination.”
The whole package to market to airlines for a Dallas flight is $1.2 million, including funds from the Central Oregon Visitors Association, airport marketing money and “revenue guarantee money built up by the community,” Bass told NewsChannel 21.
“We have more people going to Dallas than any city that does not have a direct” flight currently, Bass said.
Redmond has been serving a dozen destinations – but like just about everything else, COVID-19 and the travel downturn last year has had an impact.
“Allegiant put a hold on (flights to Las) Vegas for the summer,” he said. “We have seasonal flights through Chicago on United that are also on hold due to COVID. We hope they’ll both be back some time soon.”
The revenue guarantees are “how we got American Airlines to go to Phoenix,” Bass explained. “You can also use (the program) to increase frequency (of flights). We used it for LA, and way back for San Francisco and Salt Lake (City).”
While subsidizing new destinations is fairly common, Bass said, “It’s usually a pretty hard thing” to accomplish. “I think Redmond does better than other airports.”
Roger Lee, CEO of Economic Development for Central Oregon, said, "Dallas-Fort Worth has been on our target for at least a decade, and we have really been pitching them hard, I think, for the last seven or eight years."
The airport and other organizations in the region have been seeking out more direct flights to and from Redmond for more than 30 years.
"It would be like establishing a new trade route, if you're going back hundreds of years, where ships would sail," Lee said.
If all goes well, Bass said, the new Dallas direct service could be up and flying by next spring.
So why is Dallas next on Central Oregon travelers' wish lists?
“It’s a great hub to take people into Mexico, of course, and get them into Florida,” Bass said.
The airline that comes aboard will have three years to draw down on the subsidy, under the typical contract. “In the past, sometimes they haven’t already even used all of it, so we get some back,” Bass said.
And after Dallas, what location could be next for Redmond Airport?
"I think our next one, logically, based on the numbers, is Minneapolis," Bass said.