Residents in Blair and surrounding counties have a big stake in a pending decision that will determine the future of passenger flight service at the Altoona-Blair County Airport.
Four airline companies showed interest in providing flights at the airport, starting Aug. 1, in exchange for subsidy from the Essential Air Service program. And because the government wants to limit the subsidy to less than $200 per passenger, it looks like Blair County's options come down to two daily flights on a 34-seat aircraft or three to daily five flights on smaller aircraft.
Before 34-seat aircraft was introduced to the Altoona-Blair County Airport, people complained about riding on smaller aircraft. They said they didn't feel as safe as when riding on larger aircraft. That assessment showed up in airport surveys, along with complaints about price and flight times.
So if the Altoona-Blair County Airport provides the option of more flights at cheaper prices, will potential passengers be willing to ride a smaller aircraft?
That's a question the airport authority and local residents need to consider as they weigh the pros and cons of the offers from airlines interested in serving the airport.
Silver Airways, the airport's current carrier, wants to keep serving the serving the airport with its 34-seat aircraft and flights to the Washington-Dulles Airport. But after two years with too many canceled flights, the airport authority isn't happy with Silver's performance. And to address the government's request regarding subsidy, Silver proposes to cut weekday flights from the Altoona-Blair County Airport from three to two. That sounds a move in the wrong direction for our county airport that wants to sustain and build passenger service.
The other three other airlines - City Link Air of Jacksonville, Fla., Sun Air Express of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and Boutique Air of San Francisco, Calif. - all propose the use of smaller aircraft. But they also propose cheaper ticket prices, at least three flights daily, flights to Pittsburgh's airport or Pittsburgh and Washington-Dulles airports, in addition to marketing programs to attract passengers.
The decision on which airline company serves the Altoona-Blair County Airport for the next two years will rest with the U.S. Department of Transportation. But, the department has always indicated an interest in community comments. So, we encourage the airport authority members to begin conducting their own personal surveys and be ready to discuss the pros and cons when they meet next month. In addition, other local public officials, local businesses and area residents who fly or want to keep flying from the Altoona-Blair County Airport should review the proposals and offer their input. Perhaps anyone who has been critical of small aircraft in the past would now consider them in light of cheaper tickets, especially in light of the escalating price of gasoline that would be consumed by driving to other airports.
To read the four proposals under consideration, go to: www
.regulations.gov and search for file OST-2202-11446. Look for the newest entries. Public comments can be made on that website or they can be submitted directly by email to email@example.com.