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Officials blindsided by cessation of air service

February 27, 2004|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

Some Washington County Commissioners said Thursday they were kept in the dark about the decision by Hagerstown Regional Airport's only commercial passenger carrier to stop providing flights to and from Pittsburgh.

The County Commissioners this week learned of the decision by Shuttle America, a private company that flies under the US Airways Express name, to drop the service at the county-owned airport after April 30.

Hagerstown Regional Airport Manager Carolyn Motz said in a phone interview Thursday that she knew of Shuttle America's decision in the first week of February and immediately told County Administrator Rodney Shoop.

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"I told Rod right away," Motz said.

Shoop did not return a phone call Thursday.

Airport officials met publicly with the commissioners at least three times since the first week of February to discuss funding for the airport's $60.2 million runway extension project, but the fate of the Pittsburgh flights were not mentioned, Commissioners Vice President William J. Wivell and Commissioner John C. Munson said.

Wivell said he didn't know until Wednesday, when he was told by a reporter.

Munson said he found out Wednesday when he saw a news report.

"Sometimes, unfortunately, the commissioners are the last ones to know..." Wivell said. "I would certainly hope that they keep us in the loop, rather than us hearing about it from the newspaper."

"If they want money to fund their runway extension and stuff, they better start telling us anything and everything," Munson said. "They don't have no right to keep this a secret. The taxpayers have a right to know."

Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook said that on late Tuesday afternoon he received a fax that informed him Shuttle America no longer would be providing the service.

Commissioner James F. Kercheval said he heard "the other week" from a pilot friend that US Airways might be changing carriers at the airport.

He said he didn't think the news about Shuttle America was as big deal, because passenger carriers at the airport have changed before.

"It really just wasn't a big deal, to be honest with you," Kercheval said. "I don't think it's the issue like you're going to lose service out there."

He said he would have been concerned if US Airways announced it would pull out of Hagerstown Regional Airport.

Doris J. Nipps did not return a phone call Thursday.

Motz called Shuttle America's decision a "non-issue," saying US Airways plans to replace that company with another carrier.

She said carriers have left the airport and have been replaced "a half a dozen times in the last decade."

Scott Durgin, Shuttle America CEO and president, said by phone Thursday that the carrier has struggled to make a profit with its Hagerstown flights.

"It's a difficult market to make money in," Durgin said. "Shuttle America has been below break even since we started service there."

Shuttle America's Hagerstown flights began in May 2003, Durgin said.

Competition with the Baltimore, Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia air markets and a lack of passengers on the Hagerstown flights were factors in leaving the airport, Durgin said.

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