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Likely subsidy measure seen as positive step for Hagerstown Regional Airport

September 25, 2008|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

The U.S. Senate on Tuesday approved a temporary extension of a subsidy program to help Hagerstown Regional Airport land another commercial carrier, according to Sen. Benjamin Cardin's office.

The Senate and House have approved the measure, which President Bush is expected to sign, Cardin's office said in a news release.

The measure would let Hagerstown Regional Airport continue to be part of an Essential Air Service (EAS) program through Sept. 30, 2009.

Cardin's office said Congress is expected to pass a bill next year continuing the operations of the Federal Aviation Administration for another four years and make Hagerstown Regional Airport eligible for the subsidy program for another four years.

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Airport Manager Carolyn Motz said the one-year extension gives Hagerstown a good chance to attract a new carrier.

The last carrier, Air Midwest, stopped flying between Hagerstown and Pittsburgh in September 2007 when its subsidy expired.

The EAS program is for communities far from large hub airports. Hagerstown has been part of the program since its inception in 1978.

To receive a subsidy, Hagerstown would have to be at least 70 miles from Washington Dulles International Airport in Virginia.

The federal Department of Transportation has said the distance is 57 miles, but a waiver allows the state to determine the distance and make Hagerstown eligible. Motz has said the DOT relied on roads people wouldn't use.

The one-year EAS subsidy waiver would apply to airports in Hagerstown, Brookings, S.D., and Lancaster, Pa.

Motz said the one-year extension of the waiver is more promising than several recent shorter extensions that realistically didn't allow a new airline to come to Hagerstown.

She said she has heard of several airlines being interested in coming to Hagerstown in recent years. The four-state area has said it wants passenger service, she added.

There won't be any firm offers from carriers until the DOT puts out a request for proposals.

If Bush signs the waiver extension, the DOT will put out a request shortly after, DOT spokesman Bill Mosley said.

Allegiant Air announced last week that it will start flying between Hagerstown and Orlando on Nov. 14, two days a week. Allegiant Air is not using the EAS subsidy for its Hagerstown service.

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