The arrival of Silver Airways at the Altoona-Blair County Airport helps shore up what should be regarded as a gem in the local economy.
The Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based company has secured several Essential Air Service contracts offered by the federal government to provide passenger flight service at select rural and small community airports.
Because of that, the Altoona-Blair County Airport and the John P. Murtha Cambria County Airport will continue to offer three daily flights on weekdays and three flights on weekends to Washington-Dulles International Airport, which has connecting flights to locations all over the world.
While the expense and value of the Essential Air Service program has been and remains a subject for debate, its availability keeps the Altoona-Blair County Airport operating at a higher level than a general aviation airport.
Without the Essential Air Service program, the Altoona-Blair County Airport would have no passenger service, and those interested in flying would be shown the roads to Centre and Allegheny counties.
Despite flight delays on Wednesday, Silver's first day of service to the local airports, Vice President Mickey Bowman said the company remains committed to an on-time flight schedule. As with any flight travel, weather and bird strikes can interfere and that's what happened.
Silver's 33-seat Saab aircraft, designated for the maiden voyage, was overnighting in the Shenandoah Valley Regional Airport in Virginia when a storm generated wind strong enough to turn the parked aircraft by 180 degrees. Subsequently, an aircraft maintenance crew needed to inspect for damage.
Then on the way into Johnstown, the aircraft struck a bird, necessitating further safety checks that added to the delay.
Despite those incidents, Silver Airways is our area's latest hope to support and improve one piece of our local economy. The airliner is using the 33-seat Saab that has proven popular with passengers who criticize 19-seat aircraft as too small. Roundtrip ticket fares, at least for now, are priced lower than earlier fares. And the early-morning departure, late-evening arrival flights are scheduled to return Oct. 1.
That sounds like a good start to rebuilding the airport's passenger service, but only a start.
In the coming months, local leaders and Silver need to do more to get the word out about the new carrier and the available options. If they don't, our local airport passenger service will keep flying against the wind.