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Passenger flights at Hagerstown airport could resume soon

Congress passes bill to restore federal subsidy

Congress passes bill to restore federal subsidy

February 15, 2008|By HEATHER KEELS

Passenger service could return to Hagerstown Regional Airport within three months under a bill passed by the U.S. Senate to restore a federal airline subsidy, an airport official said.

Maryland Democrats Benjamin Cardin and Barbara Mikulski said they expect President Bush to sign the legislation, which passed the House earlier this week.

"This is really great news for the community, assuming that it moves forward, and we believe it will," said Greg Larsen, the airport's business development manager.

Hagerstown Regional Airport has been without carrier service since October, when the federal Transportation Department deemed it too close to a bigger airport to qualify for Essential Air Service subsidies.

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The Cardin-Mikulski bill would leave distance calculation up to the state, which has historically measured a longer driving distance to Dulles International Airport than the route measured by federal regulators.

The bill, which is effective through Sept. 30, is intended as a temporary measure to allow service to resume until Congress passes a five-year reauthorization of the subsidy program as part of a larger bill later this year, Cardin spokeswoman Susan Sullam said.

Twice last year, the Senate approved similar temporary measures, only to see the legislation become enmeshed in unrelated disputes over FAA reauthorization, Sullam said.

"This lack of action has really put this airport and two other airports in a very precarious situation," Larsen said.

Airports in Brookings, S.D., and Lancaster, Pa., are also stuck in a loophole regarding their distance to larger airports.

Air Midwest, the Hagerstown airport's only commercial carrier, stopped its US Airways Express flights between Washington County and Pittsburgh on Sept. 30.

The airport remains without a carrier, but Larsen said interest remains strong and service could resume within 60 to 90 days after the funding is reinstated.

Officials have been in talks with several niche carriers and are close to an agreement with one of them, he said.

"I'm guessing this fall we'll have some very exciting things to offer to our Hagerstown travelers," he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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