MARTINSBURG - The Altoona-Blair County Airport will begin providing passenger service via an eight- or nine-seat aircraft later this year, a change guaranteed when Silver Airways withdrew from current competition for the federally-subsidized route.
Silver, in a revised proposal submitted Wednesday to the U.S. Department of Transportation's Office of Aviation Analysis, said it removed the Altoona-Blair County and the Beckley, W.Va., airports from its proposal for a new contract under the government's Essential Air Service program.
For those two airports, Silver has not been able to reach an agreement with United Airlines to allow the use of United scheduling and ticketing systems, Silver Vice President James Kogutek explained in his company's latest proposal.
"Because we will be unable to continue placing the [United Airlines] code on flights to Altoona and Beckley airports, we are no longer able to serve these communities and have removed them from our bid," Kogutek said.
Silver named seven other airports, including the John Murtha Johnstown-Cambria County and the Dubois-Jefferson County airports, that it wants to continue serving. Kogutek indicated that agreements on behalf of those airports have been reached with United Airlines.
Silver's current contract to serve the Altoona-Blair County Airport extends through July 31, although the government could order Silver to continue providing flights until a replacement carrier is ready to take over.
"It looks like we're going to have to go with somebody else, and that we'll be rebuilding our ridership with Sun Air, CityLink or Boutique," Altoona-Blair County Airport Manager Tim Hite said Thursday.
Representatives for SunAir of Fort Lauderdale, CityLink Air of Jacksonville, Fla., and Boutique Air of San Francisco, have submitted proposals to serve the Altoona-Blair County Airport. They also have promised to work the authority on efforts to build ridership to the Pittsburgh airport, or in the case of Boutique Air, to both the Pittsburgh and the Washington-Dulles airports. All carriers are promising reliable service, frequent flights and lower ticket prices, via the use of an 8-or 9-seat aircraft.
While Silver has been using a 33-seat Saab aircraft for almost two years to serve the Altoona-Blair County Airport, passenger numbers have declined, and airport leaders have complained about canceled flights and poor service.
Tim Hite said Silver canceled two flights on Wednesday because of mechanical issues. Arrangements were made, he said, to transport eight passengers by taxi to the Washington-Dulles airport.
Authority Chairman Tom Hite said the authority members have been giving serious consideration to Silver's competitors and will be ready to form a recommendation when they meet June 9.
"We heard rumors," Tom Hite said. "But until I read Silver's latest proposal, I wasn't aware that they were going to do that."
Tim Hite, who said he is making plans to retire in October, said he is willing to help the authority members sort through the proposals but won't recommend one applicant over another.
That's a decision the authority members should make on behalf of the community, Tim Hite said.
The government's Office of Aviation Analysis is expecting a recommendation from local airport leaders. It also has extended the public comment period through June 19. Those who want to offer input regarding future flight service at the Altoona-Blair County can send an email to email@example.com.
Comments can also be submitted via the www.regulations.gov website. Search for file OST-2002-11446.