Local firms stepping up to fill the transportation gap

Wheatland Express will expand its daily service between Pullman and the Spokane International Airport to help passengers during the runway reconstruction project at the Pullman-Moscow Regional Airport.

A number of businesses will be adjusting their operations during the coming, temporary closure of the only runway at the Pullman-Moscow Regional Airport, including:

Wheatland Express

The bus line will expand its daily nonstop service between Pullman and the Spokane International Airport by adding a route that originates at the Pullman airport.

One-way tickets cost $38 per person and are available at wheatlandexpress.com/airportexpress. The trip takes about two hours.

The Pullman departures will be at 5 a.m., 9:45 a.m. and 4:20 p.m. The Spokane departures are set for 7 a.m., 2 p.m. and 7:15 p.m.

The popularity of the service has grown exponentially in recent years, especially among Washington State University and University of Idaho students, but it is open to anyone, said Jolene McKenzie, vice president of sales at Wheatland Express.

Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories

The maker of high-tech equipment for electrical transmission and distribution will base its four jets at Hillcrest Aircraft Company at the Lewiston-Nez Perce County Regional Airport.

Typically, all of the company’s Cessna Citation X+s are in the air every week and that frequency of flights will continue during the closure, said Mark Wray, director of aviation at SEL.

Hillcrest will provide fuel, a place for the aircraft to be parked, access to runways and a passenger depot. SEL employees and customers on the flights will use their personal vehicles or take a shuttle to and from Pullman.

“We’ve worked out an agreement down there to make things as easy as possible,” Wray said. “Other than the travel time on the road, it will be seamless for us.”

SEL pilots have flown nearly 4,000 employees at all levels of the company since its founding 20 years ago to destinations in the United States and throughout the world.

“We use it as a business tool that’s available to any of our employee owners (or customers) if it makes sense,” Wray said.

Hillcrest Aircraft Company

More charters carrying football teams playing WSU will be landing at Hillcrest’s headquarters, about 1½ miles from the Lewiston airport terminal near the entrance to Bryden Canyon Golf Course.

That boost along with more volume for other charters will require Hillcrest to add a couple of part-time employees, said Gary Groff, general manager of operations at Hillcrest.

“My numbers will be up because of this,” he said.

Stout Flying Service

The company next door to the Lewiston airport terminal will provide owners of Pullman-based private planes a place to park and buy fuel.

“The temporary closure will create a greater opportunity for ground handling, corporate and private flights into Lewiston,” said Paula Stout, an owner of the company. “The increase in traffic (will) be great for the Lewiston airport.”

Inter-State Aviation

The owner of the venture based at the Pullman airport anticipates a dramatic revenue reduction during the closure.

The primary service of Inter-State Aviation is selling aircraft fuel to customers such as SEL and Horizon Air, a subsidiary of Alaska Airlines, which provides the only commercial passenger service on the Palouse.

“We won’t be doing that, which hurts,” said owner Andrew Patrick.

He’ll be relocating other parts of his business, but will be spending more on the temporary arrangements and have to lay off one full-time employees and four part-time employees.

He’ll still be operating charters frequently used by UI and WSU employees from Lewiston, but believes the 45- minute drive will cut enough into the time savings of flying to reduce demand.

A flight school will operate from Colfax. Operations based in Grangeville, Medford, Ore., and Colville, Wash., that fly fire spotters for the U.S. Forest will continue.

Repairs that would typically be done in Pullman will be moved to private agricultural airstrips in the Moscow area and other locations.

“That takes a lot of the profits out of things,” he said.

Williams may be contacted at ewilliam@lmtribune.com or (208) 848-2261.

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