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More destinations will make airport fly

July 31, 2005|By Anton Dahbura

I am writing this letter in response to an editorial piece concerning the Hagerstown Regional Airport authored by Mr. Tim Bussard in the Sunday, June 26 edition of The Herald-Mail.

The author claims that Commissioner Greg Snook's statements in support of Hagerstown Regional Airport improvements have a "political spin." There is no valid reason for our County Commissioners or anyone else to be motivated to put a "political spin" on the decision to move ahead with the improvements to Hagerstown Regional Airport; the funding process took place over a period of more than five years and it was a broad-based team consisting of elected officials from both major political parties at the federal, state, and local levels, airport and county staff members, and community leaders who participated in the process.

As has been stated many times and in many places, including The Herald-Mail, the vast majority of funding for the project is from FAA user fees, not from income taxes, property taxes, or other traditional types of taxes that invoke images of taxpayers reaching for their wallets. The funding exists for projects such as this and will be raised whether it is used in Washington County or elsewhere around the U.S. Therefore, the Hagerstown Regional Airport improvement project has no discernable effect on anyone's wallet.

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There are reasons well beyond supporting passenger service that justify the runway extension. FAA regulations aimed at increasing the safety buffer zones at the ends of runways are likely to reduce our runway length below acceptable lengths for many types of aircraft. Also, it is important to understand that Hagerstown Regional Airport's primary economic impact is in its role in supporting dozens of aviation-related businesses as well as corporate, private, and military aircraft. Scheduled service comprises only about 5 percent of total traffic on the field.

Citing what amounts to U.S. Airways service shortcomings as a reason to criticize the project is misguided at best; airport passenger declines are primarily the result of U.S. Airways cutting the use of Pittsburgh as a hub, which impacts the frequency and destinations for connecting flights to/from Hagerstown.

Also, the smaller turboprops that U.S. Airways' subcontractor has been using into Hagerstown are a less attractive option for part of the flying public. Recent press about the possibility of Hagerstown losing its scheduled service has also had an impact.

The reason for the recent decline in passengers at Hagerstown Regional Airport is not due to a lack of a market in the area; in fact, airline industry experts agree that scheduled service would flourish in Washington County with the right product, including 1) strategically chosen destinations; 2) schedules that provide easy connections with other flights; 3) the comfort and convenience of regional jet service; 4) an appropriate mixture of business and leisure fares; 5) marketing to create awareness that flyers have a viable alternative to use Hagerstown Regional Airport for their travel.

With our recently re-established Essential Air Service status as well as our airport improvements (scheduled for completion by late 2007), there is renewed impetus to work toward scheduled passenger service that meets the above-listed goals.

Note that prior to the decline of the Pittsburgh hub, U.S. Airways was satisfied with its revenue from its flights to and from Hagerstown since business flyers were making good use of the service even though the fares were often not price-competitive with flights originating at BWI, Dulles, or Reagan National. Even though nearly everyone would like inexpensive fares, it's not the only yardstick with which to measure the effectiveness of our local service.

Yes, the other large airports in the Baltimore-Washington metro area are certain to continue to attract part of our local market. However, our country's major cities (New York, Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Chicago, to name a few) include "satellite" airports to serve outlying communities and to channel part of the air and ground traffic away from the urban congestion. We believe that Hagerstown Regional Airport is well-positioned to be, as USA Today has already called us, the Baltimore-Washington area's fourth airport.

I ask our current airport customers and area citizens to embrace the positive change that our airport is undergoing for the benefit of the community as a whole. The Hagerstown Regional Airport administration, Airport Advisory Board, and County officials will endeavor to maintain the user-friendliness, convenience and cost-effectiveness that so many have enjoyed over the years while we expand our capacity and capabilities as well as improve safety and security.

Anton Dahbura is chair of the

Hagerstown Regional Airport

Advisory Board.

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