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Airport officials look beyond BWI

June 25, 2003|by SCOTT BUTKI

In the post-9/11 world in which travelers are less likely to choose airplanes over cars for short trips, it is not too surprising that the airline commuter service flying passengers from the Hagerstown Regional Airport to the Baltimore-Washington International Airport would not be viable, a Hagerstown airport official said Tuesday.

Airport officials think a more viable operation could be run from Hagerstown directly to other locations farther away, such as airports near New York City and North Carolina, and other undisclosed destinations, Airport Business Development Manager Greg Larsen said Tuesday.

The state-subsidized commuter service connecting the Cumberland and Hagerstown airports with BWI will end June 30, the last day of the fiscal year.

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The state opted not to extend the subsidy for the flights provided by Boston-Maine Airways of Portsmouth, N.H., a division of Pan American, saying the airline had not drawn enough customers to be independently profitable.

The service was hurt by bad timing, starting soon after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Larsen said.

The airline industry nationwide experienced significant decreases in the number of passengers since the terrorist attacks, he said.

The service's viability was "rock solid" prior to the 9/11 attacks, Larsen said.

"We feel the viability of the Baltimore (flights) may have gone away with the tragedies of 9/11," he said. "People's threshold for travel is different post-Sept. 11."

The state originally agreed to subsidize the commuter service by $5 million over three years but instead spent about $4.25 million in less than two years. The service began in December 2001.

The Hagerstown airport hopes to continue a relationship with Pan American through direct flights to sites farther away than Baltimore, Larsen said.

The airport does not plan to ask for a subsidy for those flights, he said.

If the airport and airline decide to offer direct flights, they could start as early as next fall, Larsen said.

The airport began an advertising campaign in April seeking feedback from the public on the matter of direct flights to New York. In all, the airport has received 50 to 60 calls from people expressing support for the service to Westchester County Airport in White Plains, N.Y., on a 19-passenger plane, he said.

What normally takes about five hours by train or by car would take 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.

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