Airport changes coming
MARTINSBURG – The flight schedule at the Altoona-Blair County Airport will change Thursday, eliminating the early morning departure and the late night arrival.
It’s a change the airport leaders said they have no control over and one they don’t embrace.
It will probably hurt passenger numbers, airport manager Tim Hite said.
Airport leaders generally favor the existing schedule because it seems to attract more passengers, and it provides the opportunity for a same-day trip to and from the Washington, D.C., airport without the expense of an overnight stay.
Travis Christ of Silver Airways, the Fort Lauderdale-based company providing flights from the Altoona-Blair County and the John P. Murtha Cambria County airports, said Friday that the new flight schedule is part of an improvement effort.
The late night arrival and early morning departure flights, he said, are being replaced with a midday arrival and departure flight, allowing that aircraft to remain overnight at the Dulles airport.
“We’ve recently invested quite a bit in staffing and maintenance resources at the Dulles airport,” Christ said.
“We want our airplanes to get more attention by being overnight in Dulles, to ensure their reliability.”
The flight schedule change is also linked, he said, to aircraft crew locations.
“We’re in the process of figuring out where we will base some of our crews, and trying to station more at Dulles,” Christ said.
In September, Hite told the Altoona-Blair County Airport Authority that he noticed an improvement by Silver Airways to adhere to the flight schedule. But at last week’s authority meeting, Hite said that was no longer the case.
“This week, we lost two flights for lack of crew,” Hite said.
While delayed and canceled flights are a possibility at any airport, Christ said Silver Airways is committed to and already working on improvements.
“We believe, and we hope to create a track record of reliability that will take hold over time, and that ultimately, the airport will come to view us as a great partner,” Christ said.
Another initiative, he said, is a marketing effort expected to start in December or January that will reach out to the communities with flight service to the Dulles airport.
“We want to remind them, and provide some offers to remind them … that they have a terrific airport to connect with,” Christ said.
If and when that marketing program shows up in the Altoona area, its likely to draw attention because it will be the airport’s first visible advertising campaign in years.
While local airport authority members have long favored advertising the facility, they’ve been unable to get Silver or its predecessors to commit money to such an effort. When airport authority member Gary Orner asked earlier this year if the airport had “even a little bit” of money in its accounts to afford some advertising, Hite said it
The authority also had a presentation several months ago from Allegheny County Airport Authority encouraging flights from 13 Pennsylvania community airports to the Greater Pittsburgh International.
“But they need money, and we can’t supplement them,” airport authority Chairman Lanny Ross said.
Silver Airways has provided flights between Altoona, Johnstown and the Washington-Dulles airports since August 2012, under the Essential Air Service program designed to sustain passenger flight service at rural and small community airports.
That contract will be up for grabs in 2014, and Silver Airways intends to reapply, Christ said.
In 2012, Silver Airways was the only applicant that applied. When asked if any other carrier has shown interest, Hite said no.