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Subsidy assures air service until 2007

September 10, 2005|By TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN

A US Airways Express carrier that planned to leave Hagerstown Regional Airport will receive a $650,000 annual federal subsidy to stay there through September 2007.

Air Midwest, which operates as US Airways Express at the airport, will provide three round trips per day from Hagerstown to Pittsburgh International Airport in 19-seat Beech 1900D aircraft. It currently offers two daily flights.

U.S. Sens. Paul Sarbanes and Barbara Mikulski, both D-Md., announced the subsidized service Friday.

Subsidized service is available to airports designated as Essential Air Service facilities.

The Essential Air Service program, administered by the U.S. Department of Transportation, ensures smaller communities maintain a minimum level of passenger service.

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

The federal government, however, ordered Air Midwest to stay put in Washington County until a new carrier was selected as part of the essential air program.

Hagerstown Regional Airport was redesignated an essential air facility in April after losing the title in 2003.

It lost the designation 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.

In a February termination of service notice to the Department of Transportation, Air Midwest said the Hagerstown flights weren't profitable and that it wouldn't be able to offer scheduled flights without an essential air subsidy.

The notice stated that increased federal regulations increased operation costs and that low-cost flights from Dulles diverted traffic from Hagerstown.

"Since beginning service in Hagerstown, Air Midwest has seen its traffic base steadily erode to the point that it has become a tremendous financial burden," the notice stated.

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