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Airline wants to replace carrier

February 26, 2004|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

gregs@herald-mail.com

US Airways Express is in the market for a new company to run its commuter air service between Hagerstown Regional Airport and Pittsburgh International Airport.

Shuttle America told airport officials earlier this month it would no longer fly between the cities after April 30.

That should not affect passenger service, Airport Manager Carolyn Motz said.

"This is not unusual," Motz said. "We are not losing service. ... This is just a change of franchisee."

Shuttle America is a private company that flies under the US Airways Express name as part of a marketing agreement with that company. Tickets are sold through US Airways, which controls the route.

US Airways Express is the only commercial passenger service at the airport. The only flights it makes are three round-trip flights per day on weekdays between Hagerstown and Pittsburgh and two flights on weekend days, depending on holidays, Motz said.

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Motz said the airport learned of the change earlier this month. She said carriers for US Airways Express have changed at least a half-dozen times since the early 1990s. She said she believed there would be no contractual problems with Shuttle America's announcement.

The most recent change was two years ago. That was a result of Chautauqua Airlines switching to larger, jet-powered aircraft that the airport could no longer support, Motz said.

US Airways spokesman David Castelveter said Shuttle America officials told his company they were not making money on their operation here. He said US Airways plans to continue flight service in Hagerstown.

US Airways works with nine carriers to provide its shuttle service nationally. Three of those are owned by the airline, Castelveter said. US Airways maintains marketing agreements with six other smaller airlines, including Shuttle America.

Castelveter said US Airways will work to see if any of the other eight carriers can provide service here. He said he doesn't expect an increase in the number of flights.

"I don't see any significant growth in the Hagerstown area. ... The best we'll be able to do is maintain" the current number of flights, he said. "We certainly hope not to interrupt service."

Castelveter said US Airways Express has decreased service in Hagerstown from four flights per day to three per day in the last year. Motz said even though Shuttle America has said it will leave, it is scheduled to resume the fourth flight in April.

Flight jitters since Sept. 11, 2001, a US Airways cutback in overall flight service to Pittsburgh in mid-2002, and the airport's under-sized runway are responsible for a decrease in passengers over the past several years, Motz said.

In 2000, nearly 26,000 passengers flew US Airways Express's Hagerstown-Pittsburgh route. In 2003, the number had dwindled to about 18,000. Motz said the majority of flights - which can carry up to 30 passengers - run about half full.

The runway expansion - projected to cost $60.2 million - will take care of two looming problems: a 2007 Federal Aviation Administration deadline to increase safety, and market trends away from turbo-prop planes toward jet-powered planes, which require more runway space.

With that in mind, Motz said she believes the airport will be set for success at the end of the expansion. In the meantime, the airport expects to continue working with US Airways to maintain its flight service.

"I don't anticipate any problems. (It) should be seamless to a passenger," Motz said.

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