Eugene’s burgeoning hightech community just got one step closer to Silicon Valley with the addition of nonstop daily air service between Eugene and San Jose, Calif.
Alaska Airlines announced Monday that its sister carrier, Horizon Air, will start offering service between the two cities on Nov. 5. Horizon will use a 76-seat Bombardier Q400.
Prices will be available June 9 when tickets go on sale, Alaska spokeswoman Halley Knigge said.
“This is a big destination for the … community,” Eugene Airport Director Tim Doll said. “It ties two high-tech communities together.”
Alaska’s move puts it in direct competition with United Airlines for the busy route between Eugene and the San Francisco Bay Area. United is currently the only daily carrier on that route, offering multiple flights a day to San Francisco International Airport, which lies about 25 miles north of the San Jose airport.
Eugene business executives hope the competition will bring down ticket prices.
Nonstop daily service to San Jose has long been on the wish list of local companies.
Symantec, a security software developer with a 1,500-person facility in Springfield and headquarters in Mountain View., Calif., Eugene tech firms IDX and CBT Nuggets, and Eugene recycling equipment manufacturer Bulk Handling Systems are among the companies that signed letters urging public funds be spent to help fund the Alaska Airlines service, said Dave Hauser, president of the Eugene Area Chamber of Commerce.
Alaska Airlines will use a grant totalling $781,100 from the federal Small Community Air Service Development and Eugene-area agencies to set up the route. Alaska can use the money — a $500,000 federal grant, plus local funds — to subsidize the route’s cost in its first year, Doll said.
If the subsidy isn’t needed, the airline can use all the money to market the new route, he said.
“Alaska and the airport feel (the route) will be successful on its own and most of that money will be used for marketing,” Doll said.
Local tech firms were thrilled by the prospect of more convenient — and possibly cheaper — air service to the Silicon Valley.
In addition to United’s service to San Francisco, Allegiant offers service to Oakland on Sundays and Thursdays.
The lack of affordable nonstop flights to San Jose was cited as a top industry concern by a group of local tech executives who met in February as part of Lane Workforce Partnership’s effort to help strengthen Lane County’s tech sector, said Matt Sayre, director of the recently opened Eugene office of the Portlandbased Technology Association of Oregon.
“Silicon Valley is home to venture capital that local startup companies need to grow,” he said. “My email inbox was buzzing (Monday) morning with communications from CEOs excited to hear the news” of the new route.
The additional service “is great news for Silicon Shire companies,” said Cale Bruckner, an executive at Concentric Sky, a Eugene web and mobile developer. Bruckner launched the Silicon Shire, a local branding and networking effort for the local tech community.
“Palo Alto and Mountain View are a quick trip from the San Jose airport by car or train,” he said. “This provides a nice alternative to flying into (San Francisco) and I imagine the fares will be cheaper.”
Eugene has been working since 2009 to try to secure service to San Jose, Doll said.
What finally brought it all together was a combination of the economy picking up, Alaska having the available manpower and aircraft, and a looming deadline for the Small Community Air Service Development Program grant, Doll said.
The grant was set to expire at the end of the year, he said.
“We had to use it or lose it,” Doll said.
The federal grant is for $500,000. Matching funds were provided by the Eugene Airport, $226,100; Travel Lane County, $20,250; Lane County Tourism grant, $10,000; Eugene Area Chamber of Commerce, $15,300; Springfield Chamber of Commerce, $5,850; and Lane Metro Partnership (now known as the South Willamette Economic Development Corporation), $3,600. When Eugene applied for the Small Community Air Service Development Program grant in 2009, San Jose ranked 12th on the list of top destinations of passengers who use the Eugene airport, Doll said.
But only 15 percent of those passengers used the Eugene Airport to reach San Jose; the other 85 percent drove to Portland to fly there, he said.
By adding this service, “we’ll be able to capture most of that 85 percent and keep them flying out of the (Eugene) Airport,” Doll said.
Alaska also announced on Monday plans to add daily nonstop service between Portland and Austin, Texas. That service will be operated for Alaska by SkyWest Airlines, using new 76-seat Embraer 175 jets.
“San Jose and Austin are two of our most requested cities from customers in the Willamette Valley,” Alaska executive John Kirby said in a prepared statement.