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New commercial flights at Hagerstown airport include Orlando

September 17, 2008|By JOSHUA BOWMAN

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- Carolyn S. Motz was smiling but silent as she walked to the podium, a gold Mickey Mouse pin on her jacket the only clue to what she was about to say.

A few minutes later, she invited Allegiant Air's sales director to the podium, and the pair donned Mickey Mouse ears as they confirmed what many people already had heard: Hagerstown Regional Airport's long year without commercial service was over.

"Today is a big day," said Motz, the airport's director, as she announced that Allegiant Air will begin twice-weekly, nonstop flights between Hagerstown and Orlando in November.

The flights, which will start Nov. 14 at an introductory fare of $79, will be the first commercial flights at the airport since Sept. 30, 2007, when Air Midwest flew its last US Airways Express flight from Hagerstown to Pittsburgh.

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The flights will run on Mondays and Fridays, leaving Hagerstown at 7:50 p.m. and arriving at Orlando Sanford International Airport at 9:55 p.m.

Flights will depart Orlando at 5 p.m. and arrive in Hagerstown at 7:10 p.m.

Allegiant Air will fly 150-seat jets, significantly larger than the US Airways Express flights.

To accommodate the larger jets, Hagerstown Regional Airport will have to make changes to the security and baggage claim areas.

Motz would not comment on the changes to the security area and said airport officials have not yet decided how best to modify the baggage area so it can accommodate 150 bags.

Local elected officials at Wednesday's announcement said they were happy to hear that commercial service is returning to Hagerstown.

"It is really needed for this part of the state to eliminate that drive to the Washington, D.C., area," Del. LeRoy E. Myers Jr., R-Washington/Allegany, said.

Myers said he thinks the service will not only give local residents an easy way to get to Orlando, but will give Floridians an inexpensive way to come north.

Washington County Commissioner James F. Kercheval said the arrival of Allegiant Air is the direct result of a recently finished runway extension.

The airport would not have been able to handle Allegiant's jets without an extended runway.

"It took a lot of time and effort to get those runway approvals," Kercheval said. "Now, we're reaping those benefits."

The lack of commercial flights over the last year has been a constant source of tension for airport officials, who have had to contend with charges that a $61.8 million runway extension, finished months after Air Midwest ended its service here, was a waste of money.

Over the past year, Motz has pointed to the "dozens of businesses" at the airport that employ hundreds of people.

Some of those companies, such as defense contractor Sierra Nevada, said the new, 7,000-foot runway would boost business.

Still, Motz said she has answered dozens of calls from people asking about commercial service.

"I wish I had tracked the number of times," Motz said Wednesday.

Motz said Allegiant's flights to and from Orlando "fulfills our greatest expectations for the community and Hagerstown Regional Airport."

"Affordable, reliable, nonstop jet service to America's No. 1 destination will be a winner for everyone," Motz said. "We look forward to a long-standing relationship with Allegiant Air."

Unlike Air Midwest, Allegiant Air is not receiving any federal subsidies to fly to Hagerstown.

She said the airport's service agreement with Allegiant is not based on a specific length of time, but added that Allegiant is obviously looking to fill seats.

"Their bean counters need to be happy with us," Motz said.

John Fenyes, Allegiant Air's director of sales, said the company's flights are, on average, about 90 percent full.

He said he will be happy with a booking rate of 80 percent in Hagerstown.

"We don't look at a time frame," said Fenyes, who did not rule out expanding flights from Hagerstown to different cities in the future.

"If we fill airplanes, the market could increase," said Fenyes, who added that Allegiant has "pulled out of very few markets."

He did say, however, because Allegiant operates at "secondary" airports it will not fly to Dulles International Airport, Reagan International Airport or Baltimore-Washington Thurgood Marshall International Airport.

Motz said she hopes service will expand to other Allegiant destinations and that the deal with Allegiant will help the airport attract a carrier with a major airline.

"We hope this serves as a catalyst for other commercial service as well," Motz said.

The agreement with Allegiant allows the airport to keep a Federal Aviation Administration certification for passenger service, which is needed to bring in a carrier with a major airline, Motz said.

Airport Business Manager Greg Larsen said he is "confident" that Allegiant's flights to and from Orlando will meet the company's 80-percent occupancy goal.

"From talking to residents, we know that Orlando is this community's No. 1 destination," Larsen said.




Flight schedule



Allegiant Air will fly twice-weekly flights between Hagerstown Regional Airport and Orlando Sanford International Airport.

The flights will start Nov. 14 and will run Mondays and Fridays on the following schedule:

  • Hagerstown to Orlando: departs at 7:50 p.m. and arrives at 9:55 p.m.

  • Orlando to Hagerstown: departs at 5 p.m. and arrives at 7:10 p.m.

    Fares will start at $79 and will rise to $99 if booked after Oct. 8.

    To book flights:

  • Visit Allegiant Air's Web site at www.allegiantair.com.

  • Call Allegiant Air's reservations center at 702-505-8888.

  • Contact a travel agent.

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