U of I to partner with Alaska Airlines on Boise flights

The University of Idaho wants an air link between its campus and Boise — and it is willing to pay up to $1.5 million to make it happen.

The university will offer a three-year revenue guarantee to Alaska Airlines, under a contract that could bring back flights between Boise and Pullman, Wash. Under the agreement, approved by the State Board of Education Thursday, the flights could resume as early as Aug. 8.

The Pullman airport, located a few miles from the U of I’s Moscow campus, has been without Boise air service for several years.

One of Alaska Airlines’ trademarks is its college-themed planes recognizing schools in its service area. (Alaska Airlines photo.)

University officials say they have several reasons to partner with the airline.

The Treasure Valley is the U of I’s top student recruiting target. The demise of Boise-to-Pullman air service has probably cost the U of I about 200 students per year, President C. Scott Green told the State Board Thursday.

The U of I also says the resumed air service will enhance its research mission, by allowing staff and faculty to travel to and from campus more easily. It will also allow university officials to more easily travel to legislative hearings and State Board meetings in Boise.

“It’s pretty much where a lot of business is done,” Green said.

Under its contract with Alaska Airlines, the U of I agrees to cover up to $500,000 per year, if the Boise-to-Pullman flights do not hit a 10 percent profit margin. The contract, and the potential payment, runs for three years.

Alaska, meanwhile, agrees to offer at least five flights per week between Boise and Pullman.

Green doubts the U of I would have to pay out the full $500,000 a year — but he also thinks the university will wind up subsidizing the air service to some extent.

“I think there’s a high probability there will be some out-of-pocket (costs),” Green said.

However, Green was quick to add that the U of I could recoup revenues, if the air service helps the university attract additional students from the Treasure Valley.

The payments to the airline would come from the U of I’s general operating budget. University officials are confident that their cost-saving efforts will provide breathing room to cover any payments, U of I spokeswoman Jodi Walker said after Thursday’s State Board vote.

State Board members asked few questions about the agreement before approving it unanimously.

Kevin Richert

Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

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