Airlines making offers to Blair, Cambria airports

MARTINSBURG – Four airlines will compete to offer subsidized flights to and from the Altoona-Blair County and the John P. Murtha Johnstown-Cambria County airports.

In their proposals posted Monday on a government website, the airlines offered a range of options to reduce Altoona’s per-passenger Essential Air Service subsidy from $255 to less than $200. They included cutting the number of daily flights, using smaller aircraft, more frequent flights, cheaper fares, adding flights to Pittsburgh or flying to Pittsburgh instead of the Washington-Dulles airport.

The Altoona-Blair County Airport Authority, aware of some interest when meeting last week, said they would need time to consider a recommendation.

While the Federal Aviation Administration and its offices decide who gets the contract, it’s also open to comments from the airport leaders and the community.

“I think our main concern now is the quality of our service,” said Tom Hite, who became airport authority chairman in January.

Silver Airways of Fort Lauderdale, Fla, the company that has been serving the Altoona-Blair County Airport for almost two years, has regularly drawn complaints, mostly linked to canceled flights. Silver’s contract is valid through July 31, and the company is among the four applicants interested in serving the airport, starting Aug. 1.

For future service, Silver proposes to continue using its 34-seat Saab aircraft as part of a package deal involving eight additional regional airports, including the Cambria County airport, Silver Chief Commercial Officer Travis Christ said in his company’s application. All flights would link to the Washington-Dulles airport.

But Silver also proposes, in response to the government’s request, to reduce Altoona-Blair County Airport’s daily flights from three to two as a way to cut the airport’s per passenger subsidy.

The other three applications came from Boutique Air of San Francisco, Calif., City Link Air of Jacksonville, Fla., and Sun Air International of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Boutique Air proposes the use of a nine-seat Pilatus PC-12 aircraft to serve the Altoona-Blair County and the John P. Murtha Cambria County airports, with frequent trips and fares as low as $39.

“This will take people off the roads and bring them back to air travel,” Boutique Chief Executive Officer Shawn Simpson said in his proposal.

He also proposed flights to both Pittsburgh and to the Washington-Dulles airport.

But to connect with the Washington-Dulles Airport, Simpson advised the government that his company will need passengers from at least three community airports in western Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Virginia.

City Link Air proposes to initiate service with a 12-seat aircraft, then change to a 19-seat Beech 1900 after securing additional certification. It proposes three 40-minute flights daily, to and from Pittsburgh, at $75 each way. The company also proposes having a station manager whose primary job will be safety and consumer advocacy.

Sun Air proposed using an 8-passenger Piper Chieftain to provide daily direct flights to Pittsburgh from the Altoona and the Johnstown airports, with local fares ranging from $29 to $59, subject to adjustments reflecting additional flights beyond Pittsburgh.

The company’s proposal also calls for five weekday flights from Altoona and six from Johnstown.

“Sun Air is prepared to make substantial investments, both operationally as well as in the sales and marketing area, to aid the communities in recovering their air passenger demand potential,” company Chief Executive David F. Hackett stated.

Sun Air’s proposal also mentioned the company’s reliability since current management took over operations in late 2013.

“Flights in the Hagerstown, Md., and Lancaster, Pa., communities served from [Washington-Dulles airport] have not had a single controllable flight cancellation so far in 2014,” Hackett stated.

Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is at 946-7456.