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Airport carrier changing in July

May 22, 2004|By TAMELA BAKER

HAGERSTOWN

Officials at Hagerstown Regional Airport just embarked on a campaign advertising its most competitive commercial fares through US Airways.

The airline, however, is embarking on its own campaign to make itself more competitive - and what impact that will have on operations in Hagerstown still is unknown, company officials said.

And less than three weeks after its latest carrier began operations in Hagerstown, US Airways said it will switch carriers again in July.

Airport Manager Carolyn Motz said more information would be forthcoming on the switch, "but my understanding is it has little to do with Hagerstown and has more to do with the airline. We're grateful for our service and we look forward to it changing again."

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The new carrier, Air Midwest, will take over US Airways Express flights from Hagerstown to Pittsburgh on July 11, according to US Airways spokeswoman Amy Kudwa. While the current carrier, Allegheny Airlines, is flying 37-seat deHavilland turboprop aircraft, Air Midwest plans to use 19-seat aircraft for the Hagerstown flight to Pittsburgh, Kudwa said. The airline also will drop its early morning flight, she said, reducing the number of daily flights to Pittsburgh to three.

Air Midwest is based in Wichita, Kan., and is one of nine carriers US Airways uses for its express service to regional airports.

US Airways customers still will get seamless tickets from Hagerstown to their final destination, Kudwa said.

The change is being made because Allegheny's larger aircraft were needed elsewhere, she said, but she could not say where they would be going. As to whether this would be a temporary switch, Kudwa said "it's difficult to say."

Also difficult to determine is how the airline's planned changes in Pittsburgh will affect its flights to Hagerstown, she said.

US Airways is committed to its current schedule at Pittsburgh through September, but plans to switch its operations there from a "hub" to a "focus city." That likely will mean fewer connections to other destinations from Pittsburgh, the airline has said.

But Kevin Trumble, customer service manager for US Airways Express in Hagerstown, believes the Hagerstown shuttle will remain viable.

"My interpretation is that right now, it means more regional jets and fewer of the larger aircraft," Trumble said.

Allegheny County (Pa.) Chief Executive Dan Onorato, after a meeting earlier this month with US Airways CEO Bruce Lakefield, has said US Airways would know in about four months whether the airline will retain its Hagerstown/Pittsburgh service, Kudwa said.

"It's simply too early to say at this point," Kudwa said.

The airline is responsible for nearly 90 percent of Pittsburgh International Airport's business, but the Arlington, Va.-based US Airways Group Inc. has faced financial problems since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and already has been through bankruptcy restructuring. Despite massive cost cutting, the airline lost $177 million in the first three months of 2004.

Trumble said the airline has not announced its plans for Hagerstown or its final plans for Pittsburgh. Much will depend, he said, on negotiations with the airline's employee labor unions, which are ongoing.

"We want to compete with the low-cost carriers, which we could do if we got our labor costs in order," Trumble said.

Staff writer Tara Reilly and The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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