The Port Arthur News
PORT ARTHUR —
Bruce Oler loves to fly.
That is why the Port Arthur resident purchased a ticket on the first flight offered by American Eagle, the commuter branch of American Airlines, from the Jack Brooks Regional Airport to the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport. It takes off at 10:20 a.m. on Feb. 14.
“To me, there is a very unique feeling when the plane lifts off the ground. It’s like you’re suspended in your existence,” Oler, 63, said. “It gives me a rush of excitement that makes me feel like I defied the laws of gravity.”
For Oler, reaching his Dallas/Fort Worth destination is not the purpose of his trip. It’s the journey.
“It’s going to be a chance to use my digital camera on an air flight,” he said. “It hasn’t been on a plane yet.”
From the moment the Bombardier CRJ200 regional jet takes off at almost half past 10 Thursday morning to the instance the return flight lands back at Jack Brooks at 7:35 p.m., Oler, an award-winning photographer, will be snapping photos.
“Everywhere I go, it’s a whole new world for a photographer,” he said.
Oler has been to 42 states, Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and many other places, snapping photos every step of the way. His work recently won him second place at the Ice House Museum & Cultural Center Inc. Big Picture Photography Competition in Silsbee.
Ideally, Oler would be able to photograph planes departing and landing from an observation deck, he said. But that has not been an option since Sept. 11, 2001, for obvious security reasons.
“The good ol’ days of being able to go and watch the planes land and takeoff — terrorists took care of that for us,” Oler said. “Those are gone.”
The flight itself would be enough for him though. Oler hoped to catch a snapshot of the celebratory water spouts the inaugural American Eagle flight will taxi through as it departs Jack Brooks — something that will never happen again.
But even if he manages to miss that shot, Oler, a customer service representative at the Holiday Inn Park Central, will still enjoy the ride on his favorite airline.
“I try to make my customers at the hotel feel like they’re at home,” Oler said, “and American makes me feel that way.”
The Jack Brooks Regional Airport has not had full-time air service since July. But starting Feb. 14, four flights will be taking off daily from the airport Sunday through Thursday and three on Saturdays.
American Eagle’s Bombardier CRJ200 regional jets seat 50 people total with 2-by-2 seating, said Paige Teel, spokeswoman for American Airlines. And the flight to Dallas/Fort Worth takes about an hour.
Depending on the route, round-trip tickets to Dallas/Fort Worth hover around $113, said Alex Rupp, interim airport manager. Including taxes and carrier imposed fees, Older paid $126 for his round-trip ticket.
“It’s cheaper to fly out of your own backyard than out of Houston,” Rupp said.
Plus, Jack Brooks is located in the center of Southeast Texas — much more convenient than driving the 90 miles to Houston, paying for parking, waiting in line and strutting across the airport to the correct terminal, Rupp said. Then there is the time spent traveling and waiting and the wear and tear on your car.
“Those costs add up,” Teel said.
At Jack Brooks, parking is free, and the airport has at least 500 parking spaces, Rupp said. And you can fly anywhere from DFW that you can from Houston.
Two rental car agencies operate out of the terminal, and the airline and the Transportation Security Administration planned to hire between 20 and 24 new employees for additional jobs, Rupp said.
Ticket prices would remain within $80 of the Houston price, Teel said, ensuring customers come out ahead if they fly out of Beaumont. But if the planes do not fill up, American has a backup plan: It’s called a “Minimum Revenue Guarantee fund.”
In order to secure service with American Airlines, the county and the airport had to create a $1.5 million MRG with financial aid from the surrounding cities. The account is a way for the airline to “minimize risk in a brand new market,” Teel said.
If the company does not break even on a month-to-month basis, it will draw money from the MRG account to at least break even, Teel said. The account itself is controlled by the Southeast Texas Air Service Correlation Limited Liability Corporation, which consists of representatives from each entity that donated to the fund.
If the funds are never used within the two-year contract period, the money would be returned, Teel said.
But Rupp did not seem too worried about it. Though he did not know exactly how many flights had been booked so far, he said ticket sales were strong.
“The route is going to be successful or it’s not,” he said.
Jefferson County contributed $250,000 — $30,000 from its hotel tax fund and $220,000 from its general fund — to the MRG while the city of Port Arthur kicked in $200,000, according to an Sept. 11 article in the News.
The Nederland Economic Development Corporation contributed $75,000 to the fail-safe account. And individual donations made up $70,000 of the fund, according to the Sept. 11 article.
This additional air service is part of American Airline’s strategy to revive business after emerging out from under its Chapter 11 bankruptcy, company spokesman Brett Hooyerink told the News in October. It was the last U.S.-based flight company to declare bankruptcy, which allows a business to shave debts and labor costs while reorganizing for more profit.
Either way, Oler was happy to be able to fly American again.
“As a consumer, customer, flier — I feel like I get more thankful attention from everyone at American from start to finish,” he said.