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Study provides recommendations for future growth at Hagerstown Regional Airport

August 26, 2013|By C.J. LOVELACE | cj.lovelace@herald-mail.com
  • Fred Davis, right, strategic planner-business development with AvPorts, explains the proposed marketing plan for the Hagerstown Regional Airport to the Washington County Board of Commissioners and Airport Director Phil Ridenour, left, on Aug. 20 in Hagerstown.
By Joe Crocetta/Staff Photographer

WASHINGTON COUNTY — Expanding existing commercial air service and targeting new leisure destinations are two recommendations for future growth at the Hagerstown Regional Airport, according to a third-party consultant study.

Virginia-based AvPorts, a firm with decades of experience in airport management, development and marketing, presented an overview of its study to Washington County officials on Aug. 20.

The comprehensive 192-page marketing plan also suggests that airport officials look into establishing air cargo service for businesses, and increasing promotional efforts for existing businesses at the airport and to attract new ones.

“They did a great job. They made a great presentation,” Airport Director Phil Ridenour said of the consultant team. “There’s a ton of information, analysis in there .... We’re excited to get started with it. This has been a long time coming.”

The Washington County Board of Commissioners voted in December 2012 to award the $130,400 contract for the study to AvPorts, of Dulles, Va.

The study was also funded by a grant of $75,000 secured through the Appalachian Regional Commission, Ridenour said.

The most apparent opportunities for growth at the airport include increasing the frequency of Allegiant Air service to Orlando and possibly looking into other destinations in the Florida market, according to the report.

In 2012, more than 20,000 passengers flew on commercial service out of Hagerstown, which includes twice-weekly Allegiant flights and four commuter flights per day on Sun Air to Washington’s Dulles International Airport.

Currently, only about 2 percent, or 14,300, of air travelers in the airport’s seven-county “catchment area,” which has more than 560,000 people, utilize Hagerstown. Fifty-seven percent, or about 390,000, fly out of Baltimore-Washington International,  the report said.

However, Hagerstown garners about 14 percent of all the traffic that flies in and out of Orlando-Sanford International Airport, compared to 41 percent flying through BWI.

With that information, Hagerstown has considerable room to grow its air service in the Florida market and possibly add destinations in the future, the AvPorts consultants said.

Based on revenue generated from visitor spending, airline payroll, fuel purchases and fees to the airport, adding new passenger air service would boost the local economy by an estimated $6.1 million to $13.8 million annually, the consultants said.

The airport’s location — with its proximity to two major highway systems — presents a favorable prospect for increasing traffic in industry sectors like production, transportation and material moving, the report said.

The report suggested that developmental goals should be to attract a second air carrier to serve an additional hub, plus engage Allegiant or other low-cost carriers to serve new leisure markets and craft a presentation on air area cargo demand to be presented to cargo airlines within the next year.

It also said other growth opportunities include developing a proactive marketing program for Sun Air commuter service, and opening a new Rider Jet Center facility to increase attractiveness for new business and space to house corporate jets.

Key strengths for the area include easy access for ground transportation, lower cost of land and facilities, and a pro-business community in the county, the report said.

Challenges to growth highlighted in the report include stiff competition from nearby states and other airports, such as those in Baltimore and Washington, D.C., as well as a lack of pad-ready sites for development, and an overall negative community perception of the airport and its value.

County Commissioner Ruth Anne Callaham, who attended the Aug. 20 presentation, said the report validated a lot of things that county officials already knew.

“It put just a new energy into it,” she said. “I have a very high confidence in the report.”

Callaham said she’s talked with some people who use Allegiant to fly to Florida, and some have expressed a desire to see other vacation-type destinations added, such as Las Vegas or Myrtle Beach, S.C.

Although maintaining or expanding commercial service is important, air freight and cargo flights present an interesting opportunity for the airport to grow, Callaham said.

Ridenour said airport officials, with the green light from county officials, have begun forming a committee to further dissect the information, analysis and recommendations in the report to develop immediate goals, as well as targets for short- and long-term improvements.

One thing that the airport can do right away is begin increasing its reach through social networking websites, Ridenour said.

“There’s not a lot of cost associated with that,” he said. “The short term, with little cost, are going to be a high priority for us.”

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