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Allegiant Air terminates local flights to Florida

July 16, 2010|By HEATHER KEELS
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HAGERSTOWN -- Allegiant Air's final flight from Hagerstown Regional Airport took off Friday morning, and already airport officials are working to replace it with a similar service, airport business development manager Greg Larsen said.

"As sad as it was today to see that airplane leaving, Allegiant has given us some very strong tools to attract a follow-on carrier, and I think that will happen," Larsen said.

Airport officials "had at least one conversation" with another airline interested in offering service to Orlando, possibly starting early next year or sooner, he said.

Allegiant announced last month it was ending its twice-weekly service between Hagerstown and Orlando-Sanford Regional Airport due to lack of market demand. The service had been operating since November 2008, with the exception of a few months in 2009, when it was suspended due to low demand.

Larsen said the airport's experience with Allegiant demonstrated that the "right product" could draw people from the quad-state region and beyond and that the Hagerstown airport could accommodate an airline of Allegiant's size.

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Allegiant's 150-seat planes are larger than the airport was designed to serve, but by the final flight, the airport had screening, fueling, baggage handling and other services "down to a routine that was working very well," Larsen said.

In addition, Allegiant's Hagerstown flights were averaging more than 90 percent full, and the revenue per passenger was within a desirable range, Larsen said.

"We've got some really good data we can take out to other carriers and say, 'Look, this is what Allegiant was doing here,'" he said. "It's something that, if they're able to move quickly and come in behind the Allegiant service and really sort of capture, there's almost a turn-key operation for a competing airline."

The final Allegiant flight, which departed Hagerstown for Orlando at about 10 a.m. Friday, had 99 ticketed passengers and four babies onboard, Larsen said.

Earlier that morning, about 130 people arrived from Florida on the final inbound fight, including Washington County Commissioners President John F. Barr, Larsen said.

Barr, who represented the county on the airline's first flight, said he has used the service often to travel to a family vacation home in Port Orange, Fla. This week's trip was his fifth or sixth this year, he said.

Barr said he remained baffled by the airline's decision to end service. He said he understood Allegiant was making a profit, "and I don't know how many airlines are making a profit these days."

Barr said he would be willing to pay higher fares, given the convenience of flying out of the Hagerstown airport, and has talked to others who feel the same way.

He said he left Tuesday from Baltimore Washington Thurgood Marshall International Airport for his flight to Florida and, door-to-door, his trip took 8 1/2 hours. Returning Friday to Hagerstown on Allegiant, the trip took 3 hours, 55 minutes, he said.

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