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Air service to bail out when federal subsidy ends

June 27, 2007|By JOSHUA BOWMAN

HAGERSTOWN - Hagerstown Regional Airport's only provider of commercial airline service will be leaving the airport in September.

Air Midwest will discontinue flights at Hagerstown Regional Airport on Sept. 30, when the company's $650,000 annual federal subsidy to provide service at the airport expires. Tom Bacon of Mesa Air Group, which owns Air Midwest, said it would not be profitable to continue flying to Hagerstown after the subsidy ends.

"We've done the calculations, and it just doesn't make sense," Bacon said.

Airport Business Development Manager Greg Larsen said Mesa Air Group is "at least partially to blame" for a loss of profit because the company has changed its flight schedule and lowered capacity.

"They have to take some responsibility for this," Larsen said.

Air Midwest has flown US Airways Express flights to and from Hagerstown for two years. The company flies 12 weekly nonstop, round-trip flights between Hagerstown and Pittsburgh International Airport.

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The airport has not found a carrier to replace Air Midwest, but airport officials have spoken with "several companies," Larsen said.

"I believe we will have a seamless transition between the end of (Air Midwest's) service and the beginning of a new contract," Larsen said.

The federal government for the past two years has given Air Midwest an annual subsidy of $650,000 to provide service at Hagerstown Regional Airport. Mesa said it was not profitable to operate there without a subsidy.

The subsidy is available for carriers flying to airports designated by the U.S. Department of Transportation as Essential Air Service facilities. It ensures minimum levels of service for airports in smaller communities.

Air Midwest will be the third carrier to leave Hagerstown Regional Airport in five years. Chautauqua Airlines suspended service at the airport in May 2002 after the company switched its fleet from small commuter planes with turboprop engines to larger regional jets.

Chautauqua's sister company, Shuttle America, took over service at the airport until May 2004, when the company stopped flying for US Airways.

The airport's $61 million runway extension, expected to be completed by December, will not be affected by Air Midwest's pullout, Airport Manager Carolyn Motz said.

"Only a small portion of our flights are commercial. While we intend to increase that in the future, our runway is not really all about commercial service," Motz said.




Sample fares



Roundtrip airfares for travel July 21-29, according to the Web site for US Airways:

·Baltimore to Las Vegas; $566

·Hagerstown to Las Vegas; $714

·Baltimore to Orlando; $285

·Hagerstown to Orlando; $491

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