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Airport manager wants to provide additional routes

June 07, 1998|By STEVEN T. DENNIS

If the manager of Washington County Regional Airport has her way, travelers to the Big Apple and the City of Brotherly Love won't have to travel to Washington or Baltimore first to hop on a plane.

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Airport Manager Carolyn Motz said she'd like the airport to provide scheduled passenger service to Newark, N.J., and Philadelphia.

The airport is surveying businesses, passengers and travel agents about what services they would use, Motz said.

A state grant was used to hire a consultant to study the airport's potential, she said.

Motz said area businesses have employees who travel to and from New York City who would use the Newark service. But the demand for such a service wouldn't come just from Washington County.

The airport's customers now come from four states and 19 counties.

Motz said she feels the airport is operating at about one-fourth of its potential. USAirways Express serves about 75,000 passengers a year on the Hagerstown-Pittsburgh route.

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Chautauqua Airlines Inc. operates the service, and is checking the feasibility of additional routes. The airline has dozens of new commuter planes on order, some of which could be used for new routes from Hagerstown, Motz said.

Despite the loss of the Hagerstown-Baltimore-Washington International route in December, the airport hasn't lost many passengers because of growth on the Pittsburgh route, she said.

Before it was discontinued, the Baltimore route accounted for about a quarter of the airport's traffic. In January, the airport's traffic was down 15 percent, but is now down only 8 percent, and Motz said she expects the traffic will increase to last year's levels by the end of the year.

She said she has hope that some BWI service will be restored, perhaps by a carrier other than USAirways Express.

Any new service could be supported by a marketing campaign. The county has budgeted $15,000 for marketing this year.

One key measure of health for the airport is the percentage of seats filled by paying passengers. That percentage has risen from 60.3 percent last year to 66.4 percent this year, she said.

The number of passengers also increased 14 percent from 1995 to 1997.

In 1995, 62,752 paying passengers used the airport. That grew to 68,048 in 1996 and reached 71,739 in 1997.

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