Local airports see subsidy extended

The Altoona-Blair County and the John P. Murtha Cambria County airports are among 11 airports authorized to retain their Essential Air Service subsidy to continue providing daily passenger service into 2020.

In a recent order, the U.S. Department of Transportation issued waivers, as anticipated, for 11 airports to remain in the program based on improvements shown in passenger numbers and subsidy levels.

The government also advised, in the same order signed by Aviation and International Affairs Assistant Secretary Joel Szabat, that it will terminate the EAS subsidy as of Oct. 18 for the Venango Regional Airport serving the Franklin/Oil City area and the Hagerstown Regional Airport in Hagerstown, Md.

Passengers with reservations booked at the Venango and Hagerstown airports after Oct. 18 via Southern Airways are supposed to be notified so they can make alternate transportation arrangements. Both communities asked to keep their EAS subsidy to sustain passenger flights, but that was denied.

To remain in the EAS subsidy program, the government has told airports that they need to meet or be working on efforts to build boarding-passenger numbers to at least 10 per day and restrict the subsidy to no more than $200 per passenger.

The Venango Regional Airport, based on 2018 numbers, averaged 5.2 boarding passengers per day and a subsidy of $480 per passenger.

The Hagerstown airport, based on 2018 numbers, averaged 7.9 passengers per day, which calculated to a subsidy of $355 per passenger.

In making its decision, the government pointed out that the Venango Regional Airport is 85 miles away from the Pittsburgh International Airport.

As for the Hagerstown airport, the government noted that its EAS program has supported flight options over time to the Baltimore/Washington International airport, then to the Baltimore and Pittsburgh airports, then the Washington-Dulles airport and most recently again to the Baltimore and Pittsburgh airports.

Hagerstown’s close proximity to three large hub airports — Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Washington-Dulles — providing access to the national transportation system makes it difficult to build ridership, the government concluded in its order. The Hagerstown airport is 70 miles from Washington-Dulles.

The 11 airports granted waivers to remain in the EAS program were credited for reductions in passenger subsidy levels, all of which were lower than levels reported previously.

For the Blair County airport, the department reported a $322 subsidy per passenger in 2018. That subsidy was higher than the per passenger subsidy of $304 in 2017 but down significantly from the $448 per passenger subsidy level in the 2016 fiscal year. In 2018, the local airport had an average of 11.5 boarding passengers per day.

For the Cambria County airport, the department recognized a $340 subsidy per passenger in 2018. That was down from the $348 per passenger in 2017. The airport boarded an average of 13.3 passengers each day.

The other airports on the list of 11 receiving temporary waivers are Bradford, DuBois and Lancaster in Pennsylvania, Fort Dodge in Iowa, Merced in California, Muscle Shoals in Alabama, Owensboro in Kentucky, Parkersburg in West Virginia and Vernal in Utah.

The government’s order also named the Morgantown, W.Va., airport as eligible for a waiver to remain in the EAS program through 2020. Its 2018 subsidy was listed at $282 per passenger.

Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is at 946-7456.