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Passenger service flights to continue at airport

April 16, 2005|by MARLO BARNHART

marlob@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - Word came Friday that scheduled passenger service will continue at Hagerstown Regional Airport for at least the next two years, thanks to a favorable decision by the U.S. Department of Transportation reinstating the airport as an Essential Air Service facility.

Reached at home Friday evening, Airport Manager Carolyn Motz said this is "just exactly what we wanted."

"This eligibility will help assure that the citizens of Washington County and the surrounding Quad-State region may continue to conveniently access the national air transportation system," Motz said.

Within the next two years, the runway improvement program will be substantially complete, Motz said. That will allow Hagerstown "to attract carriers that utilize regional jets and operate beyond the hub and spoke system."

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According to Greg Larsen, airport business manager, the next step is for the airport is to advertise for prospective airlines to operate a link to a hub airport.

While that process is under way, the current airline - Air Midwest - will continue flights between Hagerstown and Pittsburgh, operating as US Airways Express.

The Washington County Commissioners petitioned for the reinstatement of the program eligibility with the support of U.S. Sens. Barbara Mikulski and Paul Sarbanes, both D-Md., and U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md.

In late March, Mikulski told the commissioners she planned to send a strong message in support of the airport to the federal government. She also said she would ask U.S. senators from Pennsylvania and West Virginia to support the county-owned airport's request to be reinstated as an Essential Air Service facility.

At that time, Larsen said that 40 percent of the airport's passengers are from Maryland, 40 percent are from Pennsylvania and the remainder come from West Virginia and Virginia.

The airport lost the essential service designation in 2003 when federal regulators determined it was less than 70 miles from 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.

Air Midwest announced in January that it planned to stop the service effective March 6 because the flights weren't profitable. Prior to this week's reinstatement, the carrier had extended the service through May 17.

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