The federal government named a Florida airline company Thursday to take over subsidized passenger flights at the Altoona-Blair County and John P. Murtha Johnstown-Cambria County airports, probably toward the end of June.
But the transition remains contingent upon Silver Airways of Fort Lauderdale negotiating a codeshare agreement with United Airlines, and having aircraft to accommodate the airports, Altoona-Blair County Airport Manager Charles Pillar said.
Having a codeshare allows Silver Airways to fly as a United Express carrier and use the United gates, ticketing and baggage systems at Washington-Dulles International Airport.
"It's absolutely critical," Silver Airways Vice President Mickey Bowman said Thursday about the codeshare.
Company personnel are still negotiating with United, Bowman said.
If resolved, Silver Airways will succeed Colgan Air, now owned by Pinnacle Airlines Corp., as the Essential Air Service carrier providing passenger flight service at the airports.
If the matter isn't resolved, then the government may have to rebid the contract, Pillar said.
Under the current contract, Colgan is obligated to serve both airports through June 30, or until Silver is ready to assume its new role. The government acknowledged, as Silver mentioned in its proposal, of the need to reach a codeshare agreement.
Pillar said he understands the codeshare "is a piece of a large puzzle" Silver and United have been negotiating, with United willing to piecemeal the codeshare.
"But Silver might not be willing to do that," Pillar said.
Everyone wants to reach a deal that's mutually beneficial, Bowman said.
As for aircraft to serve the Altoona and Johnstown airports, Bowman said that should not be a problem because Silver has taken delivery of four Saabs and expects the arrival of 12 more.
In its order, the U.S. Department of Transportation designated an estimated $3.99 million in Essential Air Service subsidy for the contract, based on Silver's proposal to provide three daily flights and three weekend flights from the Blair and Cambria airports to Washington-Dulles.
The government also cautioned that at $3.99 million, the Altoona-Blair County Airport subsidy would be slightly more than $200 per passenger. Efforts should be made to keep passenger numbers high enough so the subsidy comes in under $200 per passenger, the department advised. The department, according to the order, is prohibited from approving subsidy of more than $200 per passenger unless an airport is more than 210 highway miles from the closest large- or medium-hub airport.