Long-awaited flight lands early | Northwest

Robert Roffulo

Buoyed by a rare 75 mph tailwind, the Lewiston-Nez Perce County Regional Airport’s first direct commercial passenger flight from Denver landed at about 8:50 p.m. Tuesday. Its arrival was more than 40 minutes ahead of schedule, prompting cheers and applause from a crowd of more than 100 civic leaders who […]

Buoyed by a rare 75 mph tailwind, the Lewiston-Nez Perce County Regional Airport’s first direct commercial passenger flight from Denver landed at about 8:50 p.m. Tuesday.

Its arrival was more than 40 minutes ahead of schedule, prompting cheers and applause from a crowd of more than 100 civic leaders who congregated on the second floor of the terminal for the occasion.

After landing, the plane went under an arch of water sprayed by the airport’s two firetrucks before coming to a stop.

The 28 passengers on the 50-passenger aircraft walked under a blue and white balloon arch inside the airport terminal. They were followed a few minutes later by the flight crew, including the captain, who paused and bowed before joining the gathering.

Lewiston resident Jody Howell was one of those on hand for the event to pick up her neighbor, one of the passengers.

“I’m just thrilled we’re getting another airline,” she said.

United Airlines and the Denver International Airport provided prepared statements, released Tuesday, to mark the milestone.

United is looking forward to many successful years in Lewiston, said Marie Downey, United’s managing director, sales west division.

The service, she said, should spur commerce in the area and draw tourists.

“I understand the community really came together to make this service a reality, which made a difference in distinguishing you from the many others seeking United service,” Downey said.

The new destination gives Lewiston airport users direct access to United’s fastest growing hub, which already has more than 450 daily United departures.

“With our partner airlines, we have the largest international network amongst U.S. carriers,” she said.

Besides bolstering the roster of flights in Denver, United is increasing the number of gates to 90 in Denver and adding 270 aircraft to its fleet, Downey said.

“We plan to retrofit 100 percent of the remaining mainline, narrow-body fleet to transform the customer experience,” she said.

Signature interiors will have larger overhead bins, seatback entertainment in every seat and “the industry’s fastest available Wi-Fi,” Downey said.

Denver airport officials are pleased more Lewiston passengers will be frequenting their terminal, said Laura Jackson, vice president of air service development for the Denver airport, which has more than 200 nonstop destinations.

“As the third busiest airport in the world, every single route is important to us,” she said.

The start of the Denver flights, which are operated by SkyWest, follows more than a year of work by airport backers that began before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

Their goal was to maintain the existing Delta nonstop Salt Lake City service and add more destinations that could be reached without layovers after Alaska Airlines withdrew its Horizon Air flights to Seattle and Boise three years ago.

At the time, the airline stated it was leaving Lewiston because passenger volumes were too low.

The effort to give Lewiston airport customers more options happened behind the scenes until a June announcement of the daily Denver service, with an early morning departure and an evening arrival.

This summer, airport officials released the terms of an incentive agreement that was negotiated with United.

United will receive $4 million in a three-year deal. Nez Perce County, which owns the airport with the city of Lewiston, is providing a first-year payment of $1.75 million from its $7.8 million allocation from the American Rescue Plan Act. The airport will pay $1.25 million in the second year and $1 million in the third year.

That investment is expected to help area manufacturers reach their customers and suppliers better and bring more travelers to the region.

As part of attracting more flights, the airport terminal also has undergone a major upgrade. Space for passengers who have cleared security has about doubled thanks to part of the second story being remodeled, and bathrooms have been upgraded.

The improvements will make it easier for the airport to serve United and Delta, which have departing morning flights at about the same time.


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