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Southern considers closing BWI gate

MARTINSBURG — The federal government’s decision to stop subsidizing Southern Airways Express flights at the Hagerstown, Md., airport could have a trickle-down effect upon flights at the Altoona-Blair County Airport.

Because of the lack of Hagerstown’s subsidy and a rent increase for its gate at the Baltimore-Washington International Airport, Sout­h­ern is thinking about closing its BWI gate, Vice President Mark Cestari recently advised the Altoona-Blair County Airport Authority.

And as an alternative, the airline is exploring the option of opening a gate at the Philadelphia airport and directing flights there from Blair County and other airports in its mid-Atlantic region, which includes Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Maryland.

What happens and when it happens, Cestari told the authority, is going to hinge on what develops in Philadelphia.

In the meantime, the Altoona-Blair County Airport’s schedule still includes daily flights to and from the BWI and Pittsburgh airports. Any changes in flight schedules would be announced, along with an effective date.

Airport leaders acknowledged pros and cons that Cestari offered about the possible changes.

Philadelphia’s airport, where American Airlines has a hub, has a lot of direct flight options that flyers may appreciate, Cestari said. It could also provide some attractive flight options to many Florida and Northeastern locations, he said.

It could also mean better ticket prices, Altoona-Blair County Airport Manager Tracy Plessinger said.

Disadvantages for the county airport include the loss of a daily flight to and from the BWI airport.

Flying to Philadelphia could also require schedule changes, Cestari said, which might mean two daily flights to Pittsburgh instead of three.

Cutting the frequency of flights to Pittsburgh could hurt, said Blair County Commissioner Ted Beam Jr., who was at the authority’s meeting.

Without any changes, Cestari indicated that ticket price increases will be inevitable, given the loss of Hagerstown’s subsidy and BWI’s rent increase. But that option also has a downside.

“We know that raising fares has a direct correlation to people going elsewhere,” Cestari said.

One other possible influencing factor, Cestari said, is that objections have been filed with the U.S. Department of Transportation over removing Hagerstown from the Essential Air Service program. The action that caused Southern to halt subsidized passenger flights as of Oct. 19.

In support of the objection, Southern supplied passenger numbers to the government indicating that the regional airport was in compliance with EAS participation rules, based on the 2018 FAA Reauthorization Bill.

Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is at 946-7456.

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