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Taxpayers could help foot the bill for regional flights

October 07, 1999|By LAURA ERNDE

It would cost state taxpayers an estimated $3 million to establish commuter flights between Baltimore-Washington International Airport and the state's four regional airports, including Hagerstown.

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Maryland House Speaker Casper R. Taylor said it's only fair that commuter airplanes are subsidized, just as are other forms of mass transportation.

"Commuter air service is, indeed, mass transit," said the Allegany County Democrat.

Taylor has taken the idea to Gov. Parris Glendening and plans to introduce legislation in January to help establish regularly scheduled flights to BWI from Hagerstown, Cumberland, Salisbury and St. Mary's County.

"I feel pretty confident. I'm hopeful the legislature will buy into the concept," he said.

A recent marketing study showed little need for the service in Hagerstown.

The study estimated that an average of 7.3 passengers a day would use the service, said Bruce F. Mundie, director of the Maryland Aviation Administration's office of regional aviation assistance.

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Both Mundie and Taylor said the hastily done survey underestimates the ridership.

Of 70 businesses and travel agencies surveyed, only 14 responded, Mundie said.

About 23,000 passengers a year flew between Hagerstown and Baltimore before USAirways Express eliminated the service in December 1997, said Airport Manager Carolyn Motz.

The service was profitable, but USAirways decided to route flights through its hub at the Greater Pittsburgh International Airport instead of BWI, she said.

Travelers frequently ask about flights to Baltimore, she said. Those flights were most often used by businesspeople, she said.

Citicorp spokesman Phil Kelly said the service would be welcome.

"We have a lot of travelers out here to many different places. We like options," Kelly said.

If the survey is wrong, then it would cost the state less to subsidize the flights, based on a round-trip ticket price of $100, Mundie said.

The airlines themselves eventually will be asked to give better cost estimates, he said.

The survey results won't affect whether the service is established. That's a policy decision, Taylor said.

"If you get on a bus in Maryland, we pay 50 percent of the fare box. If you get on a subway in Maryland, we pay 50 percent of the fare box. We should be paying 50 percent of the fare of a commuter airline from any one of these regional satellite airports to BWI,'' Taylor told Glendening administration officials last month.

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