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Airport could offer N.Y. flights

April 30, 2003|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

Tri-State area residents might soon have the opportunity to significantly cut down their travel time to New York City.

Hagerstown Regional Airport officials hope to have direct flights to just north of the Big Apple beginning this summer, Airport Business Development Manager Greg Larsen said Tuesday.

But whether the direct flights will happen depend on demand from area residents and the business community, Larsen said.

Some in the banking and printing industries have indicated they would be interested in the direct flights, Larsen said.

"People have been telling us, 'If we could only run a direct route to New York City, then that would be something of interest to us,'" Larsen said.

Pan American would provide a few flights a day to Westchester County Airport in White Plains, N.Y., on a 19-passenger plane, he said.

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What normally takes about five hours by train or by car would be cut down to about 40 minutes by air. Passengers would have to find their own transportation from White Plains to Manhattan, which is about a 40-minute drive, Larsen said.

Now, Larsen said people fly from Hagerstown to Baltimore and either connect with another flight or take the train to New York City. Travelers also can fly to Pittsburgh and take a connecting flight to New York, but "not only is it very expensive, but it's very time consuming," Larsen said.

Hagerstown Regional Airport offers Pan Am shuttle flights to Baltimore and Cumberland, Md., and US Airways flights to Pittsburgh.

The airport began an advertising campaign on Monday seeking feedback from the public on the matter of direct flights to New York. By the end of the day, he said he received 10 phone calls indicating support for the flights and no negative responses.

"Anybody who needs to travel from New York City to Hagerstown would see it as a welcome addition to the area," Economic Development Commission Director Timothy Troxell said.

Larsen said he did not yet have information on the cost of offering the flights or ticket prices.

The airport was depending on a $5 million payment, or subsidy, over three years from the state to help pay for flights from Cumberland and Hagerstown to Baltimore and back. The Maryland Aviation Administration, however, reduced that to $4.25 million over a 1 1/2 year period, leaving the airport short $750,000.

The Maryland Aviation Administration recommended against continuing the state subsidy beyond June 30, stating the flights have not drawn enough customers to be independently profitable, according to a report the agency sent to state legislative leaders and the governor.

An average of 2.4 people per flight flew on the airline to or from Hagerstown to BWI through the end of December 2002, according to information released by Airport Manager Carolyn Motz in January.

Commissioners Vice President William J. Wivell said he supports increasing the number of flights in and out of Hagerstown, but that he doubted the airport would get another state subsidy to help pay for the New York flights.

"I guess it's worth a trial run," Wivell said.

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