Alaska Airlines flight cancellations not affecting Pullman

Planning from January, training delays, omicron variant causing pilot shortage; jet service coming to Pullman in 2023



Pullman-Moscow Regional Airport is hoping to have jet service by the end of 2023, said airport director Tony Bean.

SAM TAYLOR, Evergreen sports co-editor

Although Alaska Airlines continues to cancel over a dozen flights each day, the Pullman-Moscow Regional Airport remains unaffected. 

The current wave of flight cancellations began on April 1, the same day Alaska Airlines pilots participated in pickets in Seattle, Los Angeles and other West Coast cities, according to a MyNorthwest article.

Alaska Airlines and its pilot’s union have been in ongoing contract negotiations since 2019. Alaska said it paused negotiations for over a year because of the pandemic, according to the article.

However, the flight cancellations were not because of this pilot picket, according to an Alaska Airlines statement.

Instead, it was due to a lack of planning and a less than ideal number of trained pilots available, according to the statement. Alaska Airlines wrote in the statement that inclement weather and omicron variant-related disruptions caused training delays and that the airline has 63 fewer pilots available in April than it planned to have.

“Airlines are all hiring, and we are hiring faster than we’re able to hire and train new pilots,” an Alaska Airlines representative wrote in an email to The Seattle Times

Alaska Airlines plans its pilots’ schedules three months in advance, so flight cancellations in April were a result of January’s planning, according to the statement.

Every airline is struggling with staffing shortages, said Tony Bean, Pullman-Moscow Regional Airport executive director. Most airlines are going to be parking airplanes over the summer.

While flights in and out of Pullman were not canceled, the dozens of flight cancellations prevented several WSU alumni from attending the annual Murrow Symposium, Bruce Pinkleton, Edward R. Murrow College of Communication dean, wrote in an email.

Two members of the Murrow Professional Advisory Board and several Murrow alumni who were serving as walk-in career coaches for students were unable to make it to Pullman because of travel issues. The two professional advisory board members participated via Zoom, Pinkleton wrote.

In March, Bean and Airport Board Member Paul Kimmell attended the Mead and Hunt Air Service Conference in Arizona. This conference was a chance for airport leadership to meet other airlines so they might one day expand to Pullman-Moscow. No airlines are looking to expand immediately, Bean said.

Alaska Airlines is retiring all of the Q400 jets that currently serve commercial passengers at Pullman-Moscow. It is replacing them with Embraer 175 commercial jets that have first-class and business class seats by the end of 2023, Bean said.

“We’re going to get jet service in Pullman. We’ve never had jet service,” he said.

Fundraising for the new terminal is within $100,000 of the needed base funds, Bean said. With the goal in sight, airport leadership started bidding for materials for the new terminal.

The $10 million fundraising goal was reached through a combination of internal contributions and public and private donations, Bean said.

“When we go and ask for funding from universities, from the cities and the counties and the port district, we turn out our own pockets first,” he said. “A majority of that $10 million is actually coming out of the airport itself.”

Bean said the community has bought into the airport because of how globally connected the Palouse region is.

“Everything that is produced in the Palouse is global. Everything,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s wheat, it’s garbanzo beans, it’s technological innovations, it’s research, it’s teaching, it’s all global — so the airport and our connectivity to the world is extremely important to our quality of life.”