Daily flights to continue

April 20, 2005|by TARA REILLY

HAGERSTOWN - Hagerstown Regional Airport expects to land a new commercial airline that will offer daily flights to and from the Washington County-owned airport by July 4.

A ruling Friday by the U.S. Department of Transportation that redesignated the airport as an Essential Air Service facility guarantees commercial flights at the airport through September 2007, Airport Business Development Manager Greg Larsen told the County Commissioners on Tuesday.

The federal government also ordered the airport's current carrier, Air Midwest, to stay put in Washington County until June 21 or until a new carrier is selected, Larsen said.


Air Midwest provides the Hagerstown flights to and from Pittsburgh for US Airways Express. It's the only commercial carrier at the airport.

"So, this assures that our passengers ... will have uninterrupted passenger service ..." Larsen said.

With the Essential Air Service designation, the airport will receive a federal subsidy to pay for the flights. Larsen said the new carrier will be required to offer at least two departure flights and two arrival flights.

"We will be stuck with the carrier that we choose through this process," Larsen said. "That's not a bad thing."

The Department of Transportation will request proposals from airlines interested in providing the service, and the final proposal will be submitted to airport officials.

Larsen said the airport then will have the chance to accept or reject the offer.

The airport won't know which city will serve as the hub for the Hagerstown flights until the new carrier comes on board, Larsen said.

After discussion with the commissioners, Larsen said it's possible US Airways will be one of the carriers interested in the subsidized service.

"The process will give us an opportunity to say, 'Hey, Department of Transportation, we think we can do better than Pittsburgh,'" Larsen said.

The financially troubled US Airways has cut back on the number of flights to and from Pittsburgh and dropped the city as a hub.

Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook said he wanted the airport to get feedback from travelers and businesses before the county chooses another airline.

Air Midwest, owned by Mesa Air Group of Phoenix, announced in January that it planned to stop the Hagerstown service effective March 6 because the flights weren't profitable.

Before last week's announcement, Air Midwest extended the service through May 17. It dropped the number of daily flights from four to two, US Airways has said.

Hagerstown Regional 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.

Staff writer Daniel J. Sernovitz contributed to this story.

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