November 26, 2002 11:00 pm
Ronn Witcraft is SkyTaxi's local pilot. The local franchise is owned by Union County Economic Development Corp. ().
Ronn Witcraft is SkyTaxi's local pilot. The local franchise is owned by Union County Economic Development Corp. ().

By Ray Linker

Observer Staff Writer

SkyTaxi, the new small-plane service from La Grande to other Northwest cities, has begun offering regularly scheduled flights to Portland International Airport and Salem's McNary Field three days a week.

"The demand for flights from La Grande to Portland and Salem has been very high and we're going to offer on-going scheduled flights on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays," said Dan Waldron, marketing director for the firm.

The plane will leave La Grande at 6 a.m. each day, arriving in Portland at 7:30 a.m. and in Salem by 8:30 a.m.

"Our intention is to offer scheduled service every day of the week and that should start within 60 to 90 days," Waldron said.

SkyTaxi is part of a network of planes serving the Northwest and even into the Bay Area of California, he said.

SkyTaxi planes have flown into La Grande before now, but the planes were based at other Oregon airports. The plane that will be based here has been refurbished in Salem, the home base for SkyTaxi. The plane arrived here Tuesday.

There is one local pilot, Ronn Witcraft, trained and licensed as a captain, Waldron said.

Jeff Ross will be his co-pilot initially. He is a veteran pilot with years of flying experience, Waldron said.

"He's been through the entire training program and should become licensed as a captain as soon as he goes through the Federal Aviation Administration checks," Waldron said.

That will enable Ross and Witcraft to each operate as captains on separate flights. The company plans to have Eric Bates and Rilla Epling become co-pilots to better serve the

La Grande area.

Waldron said the FAA has not imposed any additional regulations or training requirements on pilots as a result of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorism.

"But the FAA has been very careful with SkyTaxi and other similar businesses. They recognize this business model has the potential for an explosive situation, and we embrace their concerns. They are just making sure we operate at a very high standard. The FAA has held us up to a little bit higher standard and this is as it should be," Waldron said.

Waldron, saying he was excited about the scheduled service from La Grande, said people could go to the company's Web site and click on "Where We Fly" to find out the flights available to such places as Seattle, Boise, Spokane, Medford, Klamath Falls. Then they can click on "Get Trip Price" to find out the cost.

For now, they will have to call the 1-866-SkyTaxi (1-866-759-8294) to book seats on a flight.

It will cost $171, one way, to take a scheduled flight to Portland and $172 to Salem, Waldron said.

The local franchise is owned by Union County Economic Development Corp. The service was started on the concept of people being able to get on-demand flights on a four-passenger Cessna 414 aircraft, avoiding busy major airports, with quick boarding and deplaning, easy parking at the local airports. Initially, the base company, Morrow Inc. of Salem, said it wanted to have 20 planes flying in Oregon.

SkyTaxi offers travelers a different option over airline and charter flights, with service to more than 300 Northwest communities, Waldron said.