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Allegiant to end Hagerstown-to-Orlando air service in July

June 04, 2010|By KATE S. ALEXANDER

HAGERSTOWN -- Allegiant Air is pulling its service out of Hagerstown Regional Airport this summer, less than two years after it began offering flights.

The last day for direct flights from Hagerstown to Orlando-Sanford Regional Airport on the Las Vegas-based airline is July 19, the company said Friday in a statement.

Customers with Allegiant reservations for dates after July 22 will be contacted for a full refund, the company said in an e-mailed statement.

Allegiant Air President Andrew C. Levy cited a lack of market demand for the reason the company was halting the service.

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News of Allegiant Air backing out shocked officials in Washington County, which owns the airport.

Washington County Commissioners President John F. Barr said the news, which reached him during a groundbreaking Friday morning, was "very disappointing."

"It's like the County Commissioners, the Mayor and the City Council, none of us were given a briefing," he said. "I feel like there's nothing I can do. As president of the County Commissioners, I really feel like I should have been given the opportunity to make some phone calls, to go to Allegiant headquarters and talk to people."

"We were pretty surprised with that," Commissioner James F. Kercheval said. "I thought it was going pretty well. And, so, it's disappointing."

Kercheval said, however, that he understood the company's reasoning.

"I was in business myself for 18 years, so I have an understanding that sometimes you have to make business decisions on profit and losses," he said.

Nothing in the airline's recent operations led Airport Director Carolyn S. Motz to suspect it would halt flights, she said.

"We've been very encouraged by the response of the community to the airline," she said, adding that "disappointed" did not adequately describe how she felt.

The company began flying out of Hagerstown on Nov. 14, 2008. Last year, it suspended the twice-a-week service from Hagerstown from Aug. 17 until the end of October, during what it said was a period of low demand.

Barr said he flew with the airline last week and his flight was full.

"I flew down Thursday night and I had the last seat in the back of the plane," he said.

Company spokeswoman Sabrina LoPiccolo wrote in an e-mail Friday that May's load factor -- a measure of how much of an airline's passenger-carrying capacity is used -- for the entire Allegiant system was 92 percent.

"We consistently seek to have a 90 percent load factor or higher on all flights," she wrote.

LoPiccolo would not disclose load factors for Hagerstown flights.

Load factor is only one assessment used by Allegiant to gauge performance, she wrote.

"Demand also drives our fares, which is what we were unable to bring up to our expectations," she wrote. "If we sold every seat at $1 we would have a full flight but obviously we would lose money."

Without Allegiant, the only passenger flights available from Hagerstown will be Cape Air connecting flights to and from Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, she said.

When asked if it will attempt to replace Allegiant, Motz said Hagerstown Regional Airport is always in discussions to attract a variety of services.

"From our perspective, we absolutely believe there is a market here for this type of service," she said.

Kercheval said the county wants passenger service but it is not the foundation of the airport.

"The foundation of our airport is jobs, government and security jobs and intelligence," he said. "They tend to be a little more stable."

About 5 percent of Hagerstown airport's operations are passenger service, Motz said.

Once Allegiant withdraws from Hagerstown, the nearest available flight with the airline will be Allentown, Pa., LoPiccolo wrote.

Staff writer Arnold Platou contributed to this story.

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