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Why Snook's plans for airport won't fly

Why Snook's plans for airport won't fly

June 26, 2005|by Tim Bussard

As a commercial pilot flying jet aircraft for 25 years, five of which were spent flying jets for Grove Worldwide out of Washington County Regional Airport, I feel that I must comment on the Sunday, June 12 article by Commissioners President Greg Snook concerning the runway expansion and facilities at the airport. Many of Snook's statements have a political spin and are not based on fact or reality.

The $62 million in "enhancements" will serve the approximate 80 passengers per day using the airport. As Snook says "only" 2.5 percent of $62 million is to be paid with local tax money.

The other 97.5 percent is tax money coming from the taxpayer's wallet in the form of state and federal taxes withheld from your paycheck. This is not free money. I can't answer for you, but I would say spending $62 million on the approximate 29,200 passengers who use our airport yearly a frivolous use of federal, state and local tax dollars.

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The airport currently does not have enough passenger traffic to sustain a 19-passenger turboprop aircraft making two (that's correct, two) trips to Pittsburgh daily. Why would Snook assume 50-seat regional jets are the answer? The problem is Washington County and the surrounding area do not have the population base or income to sustain air service. In his article, Snook states the base/market service area includes four states and 16 counties and 1.245 million people. The reality is Franklin, Fulton, Washington, Allegany, Berkeley and Jefferson counties are the market service area. Any other counties would be better served by Baltimore/Washington International, Dulles, Harrisburg or Pittsburgh. As for 1.245 million people? I knew our area was experiencing population growth, but let's be realistic as to the market.

As far as pricing, below are current fares from BWI Airport and Washington County Airport (by connection) on some popular round trip routes:

Washington County to Boston - $656; BWI to Boston - $220.

Washington County to Miami - $747; BWI to Miami - $235.

Washington County to Chicago - $761; BWI to Chicago - $360.

Washington County to Los Angeles - $894; BWI to Los Angeles - $528.

Why the disparity in pricing? Because of supply and demand. BWI airport and Dulles each have more than 15 carriers serving them, including low-cost leaders Southwest, America West, Air Tran, JetBlue and Continental. Southwest alone operates 160 flights per day into and out of BWI. Declining fares at BWI now draw passengers from as far away as Philadelphia and Richmond. As for Washington County? US Air, the only carrier, which is currently involved in its second round of bankruptcy, flies two flights a day. Let's face it, Washington County's proximity to the Baltimore/Washington Metro area makes it convenient to drive, fly nonstop on your pick of more than 15 different airlines and save hundreds of dollars in the process.

Washington County is a small airport and is in no position to be turned into a bustling jet hub because of its close proximity to BWI, its noncompetitive fares, its only carrier offering as its only destination: Pittsburgh and its undereducated and unskilled workforce as related to aviation.

Snook would like you to visit Washington County Airport. I would also like you to visit. Please notice:

n The huge parking lot - only half full.

n The beautiful, modern terminal, which would be the envy of many counties our size, which is nearly empty of passengers and business.

n No aircraft at the gate, unless you are fortunate to see one of two flights which operate daily.

n The underutilized, 5,461-foot runway which, when lengthened, will even then be underutilized.

n The US Airways counter, charging two to three times more in fares than at BWI.

For the three County Commissioners who bullied these "enhancements" through, admit to your $62 million mistake. Admit that your 7,000-foot runway is not going to bring those 50-seat jets. Admit that you had no marketing or business plan to justify these "enhancements." There is a reason that Washington County has had four different air carriers in four years. There is a reason only two flights a day depart and arrive. There is a reason US Airways is operating 19-seat aircraft instead of 50-seat aircraft as they used to in the past. And the reason is, they could not make a profit in this market due to noncompetitive fares and a lack of population base to pull from. And no amount of additional runway or "enhancements" will cure this problem. But the commissioners keep pushing forward.

It's time the County Commissioners learn to forego the luxuries, concentrate on the necessities, learn to live within a sensible budget and realize the Washington County taxpayer is not an ATM machine that dispenses cash at will. I cannot think of any recent Washington County project of this financial magnitude where so few citizens will benefit from such a large expenditure.

I would like to close on a positive note. As Snook says in his article, "parking is still free."




Tim Bussard is a resident of Hagerstown.

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