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Sun Air seeks to take over routes from Hagerstown to Baltimore

May 25, 2012|By C.J. LOVELACE | cj.lovelace@herald-mail.com

A small Florida airline is hoping to take over federally-subsidized commuter flights from Hagerstown to Baltimore — if the price is right.

Sun Air International, based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., submitted a proposal to the U.S. Department of Transportation in late April offering to take over daily flights from Hagerstown Regional Airport to either Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport or Dulles International Airport, President and Chief Operating Officer Tom Cooper said Thursday.

Sun Air seeks to take over the routes to BWI currently flown by Cape Air, but only if the company can secure a federal subsidy of $4.07 million, including $1.725 million for four daily roundtrip flights out of Hagerstown, according to the proposal.

The company wants $2.35 million for five daily roundtrip flights out of Lancaster, Pa., where Cape Air also currently provides service, the proposal said.

A total of $4.28 million is requested if Sun Air elects to alter service and fly into Dulles, but Cooper said he favors BWI since Cape Air has been providing service there.

Both regional airports fit the profile of Sun Air, he said.

“We are aggressively going after some essential air service routes,” Cooper said.

Phil Ridenour, director of Hagerstown Regional Airport, said he had no updates on a potential ending date for Cape Air’s services, but the airport has reviewed Sun Air’s proposal and sent comments back to the transportation department.

Cape Air has flown out of Hagerstown and Lancaster since March 2009 under a contract to receive an Essential Air Service subsidy through the Federal Aviation Administration, which granted the airline about $3 million annually between both airports, according to Andrew Bonney, Cape Air’s vice president of planning.

Bonney said the transportation department solicits contracts every two or three years for subsidized service, and Cape Air decided not to submit a renewal for operations in the region due to a lack of “scaling,” meaning the company hasn’t grown in the mid-Atlantic region as it had once hoped.

“It’s very hard to have a region of two cities,” Bonney said, noting that profitability was not a factor in the airline’s decision to not apply for renewal.

“Exiting the Lancaster and Hagerstown markets was a difficult decision,” he said. “We pour our blood, sweat and tears into each market we enter, so it is extremely difficult to exit a market that we have started.”

There is no timetable for a decision on Sun Air’s proposal yet,  transportation department spokesman Bill Mosley wrote in an email, but “we’ll make a decision as soon as possible.”

Bonney said Cape Air is contractually obligated to continue flights until a new airline begins service. The incumbent airline would coordinate with the transportation department to ensure a smooth transition between providers and minimize flight interruptions, he said.

“We are working hard to ensure that the Cape Air employees affected by this change are able to apply for other positions within Cape Air, or are able to apply for local jobs at whichever airline is selected by DOT to replace Cape Air,” Bonney said.

Sun Air currently operates out of Fort Lauderdale and offers flights to four locations in the Bahamas, as well as chartered services.

“We’re prepared to move into the market as soon as we get approval,” Cooper said.

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