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Hagerstown Regional Airport officials seek support for new service

March 30, 2011|By HEATHER KEELS | heather.keels@herald-mail.com
  • Direct Air & Tours Sales Director Stan Rydelek, left, talks about his charter company's planned flights to to Myrtle Beach, S.C. and Lakeland, Fla., Wednesday during an event in the terminal at Hagerstown Regional Airport. Airport Director Phil Ridenour, right, called upon the traveling public to support the service.
By Kevin G. Gilbert/Staff Photographer

Hagerstown Regional Airport officials said Wednesday that they are counting on the community to help retain the airport’s new, twice-weekly jet service to Myrtle Beach, S.C. and Lakeland, Fla., which is slated to start June 23.

“We’re ecstatic about this service to these two popular destinations. However, we are depending on you folks in the community and the Tri-State area to fill these seats and make this work,” Airport Director Phil Ridenour said at a news conference in the airport terminal Wednesday morning.

“That’s the only way we’re going to be able to preserve this viable service and continue to provide it for the county and the Tri-State area.”

The new service, provided by charter operator Direct Air & Tours of Myrtle Beach, will begin with two flights per week, on Thursdays and Sundays, starting June 23.

Service to Myrtle Beach will be seasonal, operating through mid-November and resuming in early spring, while flights to Lakeland will continue year-round, Direct Air Sales Director Stan Rydelek said.

The company is offering an introductory fare of $79, each way, for tickets purchased by 11:59 p.m. Saturday, Rydelek said.

After that, airfare will begin at $99 each way, not including fees, and will increase in increments based on availability, according to a news release. First-class seats are available for a $100 upgrade.

Tickets are on sale now at the company’s website www.visitdirectair.com.

All flights are public charters on Boeing 737-400, 150-passenger jet aircraft operated by Sky King Airlines, featuring 12 first-class and 138 coach leather seats, the news release said.

Flights to Myrtle Beach take about an hour and a half, while flights to Florida take about 3 1/2 hours, including a stop in Myrtle Beach.

Washington County Commissioner William B. McKinley said the commissioners were “elated” that Direct Air chose to offer service to Hagerstown.

“They could have gone many places, but they put their faith, their commitment into Hagerstown, and we as the county commissioners will work as hard as we have to to make it a success for you,” McKinley said.

Rydelek said after the news conference that Direct Air chose Hagerstown because of its location, demographics and survey responses indicating an interest in travel to Myrtle Beach and Central Florida.

“You have the families, you have the golfers, and you have the seniors, so it was a really good fit,” he said.

Myrtle Beach features 60 miles of uninterrupted coastline, “wonderful entertainment” and more than 100 golf courses, Rydelek said.

Lakeland Linder Regional Airport in Florida is about 60 miles from Orlando and about 30 miles from the Tampa area.

In addition to the popular Disney attractions in Orlando, a new family destination called Legoland is scheduled to open soon in Lakeland, Rydelek said.

Convenience, tourism
Rydelek said he thought some passengers would take advantage of Direct Air’s flights to Hagerstown as an alternative to flying into or out of major airports in the Baltimore-Washington area.

“You’ve got such a convenience factor,” he said. “You’ve got the free parking, you walk through the front doors, and you’re at the gates. There’s no standing in line for two hours.”

He said Direct Air also planned to promote Hagerstown as a tourism destination in its other markets.

“Heritage tourism is a big deal right now, and so is eco-tourism,” he said. “You’ve got the mountains, you’ve got the battlefields. I think all of a sudden, now that you’ve got easy access, it will open up.”

Greg Larsen, Hagerstown Regional Airport’s business development manager, said local officials were excited about Direct Air’s interest in working with the community to promote its attractions.

“It’s a very different approach than their predecessor,” Larsen said.

Hagerstown’s last destination-oriented commercial carrier, Allegiant Air, ended its twice-weekly service between Hagerstown and Orlando in July after less than two years.

Its other commercial carrier, Cape Air, continues to offer multiple daily commuter flights to Baltimore with help from a government subsidy.

To help attract Direct Air, Hagerstown Regional Airport agreed to waive typical fees such as those for counter space and baggage area use for the first two years, Larsen said. That is the same incentive it provided to Allegiant, he said.

New jobs likely
The new service will likely mean additional jobs at the airport, Larsen said, although he did not know the number yet.

He said the new service is further justification for the airport’s runway-extension project.

“This airline will need every bit of that 7,000 feet to operate safely in Hagerstown,” he said.

The airport does not have a contract specifying any length of time Direct Air will operate in Hagerstown, Larsen said.

“We’re really commencing in this partnership with the understanding that we both believe this will work, and we at the airport and the community need to demonstrate that,” Larsen said.

Rydelek said Direct Air would like to see planes at least 80 percent full and would rely on advertising to help get them to that level or higher.

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