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Air travel seen as economic key

August 03, 2000

Air travel seen as economic key



By BOB PARTLOW / Staff Writer

State officials from Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia and Pennsylvania agreed Thursday that for the mid-Atlantic region's economy to soar, emphasis must be placed on building up the region's airports.

"Infrastructure is the foundation of our economic development and, in my mind, transportation is the backbone of infrastructure," said Maryland House Speaker Casper Taylor, who spoke at the annual four-state conference of state legislators.

He mentioned a state appropriation he gained this year to subsidize carriers at three Maryland airports, including Hagerstown, to increase commuter and business traffic into Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

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That bill could pump as much as $4.5 million into fare subsidies in the next three years.

"We have to make (air travel) competitive to the point it will be attractive, it will be used," Taylor, D-Allegany, said. "This will greatly enhance our economic competitiveness."

People think little of it when public officials subsidize bus routes and other ground mass transit, he said. They must begin to think of planes as "flying buses" and help them in the same way.

"Economic development and aviation are absolutely tied together," said David Blackshear, director of the Maryland Aviation Administration, who discussed the millions of dollars spent to enhance the state's airports. Creative new ways must be found to bring about aviation improvements, he said.

Officials from regional airports at Hagerstown, Martinsburg, W.V., Cumberland, Md., and Winchester, Va., told legislators they are constantly seeking to improve their airports.

In Hagerstown, safety concerns, the requirements of planes using the airport and the desire to expand the economic base by expanding the airport have caused officials to look at extending the runways.

"It has to be looked at, it has to be explored," said Carolyn Motz, manger of the Hagerstown Regional Airport.

A terminal will be needed if the airport in Martinsburg is to attract passenger service, although that may not be a realistic aim, said Richard Wachtel, chairman of the board that oversees the airport.

New highway construction will cut 15 minutes from the trip to Dulles International Airport, which could make it less likely that airlines would want to use the airport.

The focus at Martinsburg will continue to be on economic development through the industrial park at the airport and working toward intra-state air travel, such as to Charleston.

Officials said they are not competitive, despite their pursuit of aviation dollars.

"There was at one time" a feeling of competition, Wachtel said. "That has lessened. Every one of us has a full plate."

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