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As airport waits for subsidy instructions, Cape Air expects to stay

August 12, 2011|By ANDREW SCHOTZ | andrews@herald-mail.com
  • Passengers arrive at Hagerstown Regional Airport on a Cape Air airplane.
By Yvette May/Staff Photographer

Now that a pitched battle over the Federal Aviation Administration has died down, several small airports that want to keep a federal subsidy — including Hagerstown Regional Airport — must state their case.

An agreement Congress reached last week would exclude those 13 airports from the Essential Air Service program. However, lawmakers left the door open for U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to approve further subsidies.

A week later, there's no word of when the excluded airports can appeal or what LaHood will do.

But Cape Air, which flies between Hagerstown and Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport through an EAS subsidy, expects to stay in Hagerstown, based on what it has heard from the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Andrew Bonney, Cape Air's vice president of planning, said Friday that the DOT told his company to expect an extension of its current contract, which expires Sept. 30. There was no indication of how long the extension might be.

Bonney said Cape Air is near the end of a one-year extension of a two-year contract.

On Tuesday, Direct Air, the only other commercial carrier at Hagerstown, announced it is halting its local service to Myrtle Beach, S.C., and Lakeland, Fla., after Aug. 21, but might return next spring.

Greg Larsen, Hagerstown Regional Airport's business development manager, said local officials are eager to hear more about applying to continue the EAS subsidy.

In an email Wednesday, Department of Transportation spokesman Bill Mosley wrote that the appeal process hasn't been established yet.

"Secretary LaHood has the authority to grant waivers and that he will review communities on a case by case basis according to the law," Mosley wrote. "He has not granted any waivers at this point. We'll announce any waivers that might be made."

The EAS program is designed to ensure air service for communities far from metropolitan airports.

Hagerstown actually is considered closer to Washington Dulles International Airport in Virginia than the 70-mile cutoff, but, for years, has gotten a waiver based on the argument that a commonly traveled path is longer than 70 miles.

Larsen said Hagerstown Regional Airport started receiving an EAS subsidy in 2005.

The current contract calls for Cape Air to get $1.2 million a year for Hagerstown-to-BWI service. Under the same contract, Cape Air also is paid to serve Lancaster, Pa.

Larsen said it's important for the public to understand that the money comes from the Aviation Transportation Fund through user fees. If it doesn't go to Hagerstown, it will go elsewhere, not back to a general fund, he said.

Congress hasn't had a long-term FAA spending plan since 2007, instead passing a series of short-term spending resolutions.

Larsen said this is disruptive.

"It's just been a very, very difficult way to do business," he said.

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