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Commercial flight service to continue

March 05, 2005|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - US Airways, which offers the only commercial service at Hagerstown Regional Airport, will continue to provide daily flights to and from Pittsburgh through May 17, airline spokeswoman Amy Kudwa said Friday.

The number of flights, however, will be reduced from four to two per day during that time, she said.

The commercial service had been scheduled to end today, after the carrier providing the Hagerstown flights for US Airways decided those flights weren't profitable.

Kudwa said she couldn't comment on why the service has been extended, saying it was a decision by the carrier, Air Midwest, operating as US Airways Express.

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Air Midwest is owned by Mesa Air Group, based in Phoenix.

When reached by phone on Friday, Mesa spokeswoman Linda Larsen said she would call back with information on the Hagerstown flights.

As of 8 p.m., the call had not been returned.

Airport Manager Carolyn Motz said she thought the flights were extended because the U.S. Department of Transportation still was considering whether to redesignate the airport as an Essential Air Service facility.

The airport lost that designation in 2003 when regulators determined it was less than 70 miles from Virginia's Dulles International Airport by the shortest driving route. A change in the law since then requires the government to measure the distance over the "most commonly traveled route," which local and state officials say is 78 miles.

The essential air designation would allow the federal government to subsidize a commercial carrier in order to keep scheduled passenger service at the Washington County-owned airport.

The essential air program helps ensure that small airports maintain a minimum level of passenger service.

With reinstatement, it also is possible the Department of Transportation would require Air Midwest to stay put until another carrier is found.

The new final flight date of May 17 reflects a 90-day notice period required by the federal government for carriers seeking to terminate essential air service. Mesa argued in its filing that the notice period should not apply since Hagerstown currently is ineligible for the subsidy.

Motz said she didn't know when the airport might find out whether it is redesignated, but that a number of travelers have shown interest in keeping passenger service in place.

"We have been inundated with phone calls from passengers that want to fly out of Hagerstown, and I've gotten lots of e-mails as well," she said. "This is a really good time to show the (Department of Transportation) that this is a viable market ..."

Once it was announced that Air Midwest had planned to pull out, Motz said travelers began to buy tickets at other airports.

"We're asking them to reconsider ticketing from Hagerstown now," Motz said. "Get on the plane."

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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