A nine-seat aircraft touched down at 11:02 a.m. Wednesday at William R. Fairchild International Airport, bringing the North Olympic Peninsula close to having commercial passenger air service to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport for the first time in nearly seven years.
The Cessna 402c and its twin sister, which landed minutes later, were completing their cross-country trip after being purchased by Dash Air Shuttle, which will offer the flights to and from one of the country’s 15th busiest airport, according to tripsavvy.com.
The pilot of the third 402c that joined them in the coast-to-coast journey took a side trip to Oregon for family business and will arrive in Port Angeles today, said airport Manager Dan Gase.
Kenmore Air Express stopped flights between the Port of Port Angeles-owned facility to Boeing Field in Seattle in November 2014.
Dash, a start-up company, expects to begin offering up to five flights daily by the end of August, Dash President Clint Ostler said Wednesday.
That goal is contingent on Federal Aviation Administration approval of the planes through the agency’s ongoing aircraft conformity inspection process, which Ostler described as a formality but which can take weeks to complete.
“The purpose of an aircraft conformity inspection is to verify that your aircraft conforms to its type design and is configured/bridged to your approved program and operations,” the FAA said on its website (faa.gov).
Ostler said Dash will be operated by Backcountry Aviation LLC of Boulder, Colo.
“They don’t operate 402s today, so we are conforming to their certificate,” Oslter explained, adding he hopes to start selling tickets by mid-July.
The FAA process requires documentation on the history of each aircraft that was contained in numerous boxes on the 402cs that were placed on seats where passengers will soon sit.
The pilots parked the planes on the tarmac after taxiing to their spots, led by Gase’s warning light-topped full-size black SUV.
In a trip that began Monday afternoon on the East Coast, the three two-pilot teams spent Tuesday night in Great Falls., Mont., before arriving in Port Angeles.
Ostler, who said he was not authorized to name the airline that sold Dash the aircraft, said the FAA process will be faster if the paperwork Dash provides is complete enough and if the agency does not have to conduct an on-site inspection of the planes, which are up to 40 years old.
“They are in really, really good shape, and we are thinking that everything will be more of a rubber stamp with the FAA,” he said.
“There are 30 boxes of aircraft records they have to go through to make sure everything is matched up,” Ostler said.
The planes will be prepped by Dash and Fairchild-based Rite Bros. Aviation.
“That’s what we are doing next week, making sure everything is in good shape,” Ostler said.
Pilots Freddie Surti of Seattle and Joe Gryniuk of Tacoma made the inaugural landing aboard the first Cessna.
“We got lucky with weather,” Surti said minutes after disembarking, adding they still “sweated a bunch” in the record heat.
The 402cs are not air-conditioned, but temperatures cool by 3.5 degrees Fahrenheit every 1,000 feet of elevation, Surti said. The pilots flew at 10,000 feet with a maximum speed of 250 mph, faster and higher than flights to and from Sea-Tac.
“The planes have been wonderful,” Surti said.
Josh Crabtree, 68, of Port Angeles, a JetBlue Airways retiree, made the trip in the other plane with pilot Ollie Cheng of Boston, who said they stopped in Cleveland, Ohio, and Madison, Wis., before arriving in Montana.
Crabtree, who has applied to be a Dash Air Shuttle pilot, said the flight time was 18 hours.
“It was beautiful until we got 30 minutes from here, and then it was cloudy, not surprisingly,” he said.
When Crabtree was flying for JetBlue, he remembers having to drive to Sea-Tac and back to Port Angeles because Kenmore Air Express did not offer late enough flights home.
Up to five Dash Air flights will begin daily at 6 a.m. from Port Angeles except Sunday and leave at 10:30 p.m. daily from Sea-Tac except Saturday, Ostler has said.
That’s one reason Crabtee said he foresees success for Dash.
Fares will average about $99 one way, with a one-way, refundable, unrestricted option of $159 one way. Some tickets will cost $79.
Crabtree helped unload airplane document boxes that were lying on the 17-inch passenger seats. There is no under-seat storage. A large pocket is affixed to the back of the next seat ahead.
A person who is 5-foot-9 and 145 pounds has little wiggle room, especially in the tail-end seat, where that person’s head touches the fabric ceiling. There is more head room toward the front, where Gase sat Wednesday in the pilot’s seat.
“It’s like being crammed in a car, if you were 6 (foot) 7 (inches),” he said, comparing it to driving to Sea-Tac.
“But if you wanted to be crammed in for 30 minutes instead of driving for three hours, you’d feel comfortable.”