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Blair airport flight schedule to remain unchanged

MARTINSBURG — The flight schedule at the Altoona-Blair County Airport will remain intact for now, even though the federal government would allow temporary reductions of subsidized flights.

Southern Airways, which provides daily subsidized passenger flights at the Altoona-Blair County Airport through the Essential Air Service program, intends to keep its current schedule intact, airport Manager Tracy Plessinger said Wednes­day.

That schedule currently includes four roundtrip daily flights on weekdays — three to Pittsburgh and one to Baltimore-Washington International. Southern’s schedule also includes Saturday and Sunday flights to and from the same destinations.

“Based on today’s ruling, Southern Airways will continue to fly our full schedule of flights out of the Altoona airport,” Southern Airways Chief Commercial Officer Mark Cestari said.

During the first week of April, Southern Airways showed interest in reducing the flight schedule to one roundtrip per day each to Pittsburgh and to BWI, because few people were flying due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Plessinger, on behalf of the Altoona-Blair County Airport Authority, filed a letter in support of that proposal, which he said would benefit Southern and allow the local airport to keep a daily connection with national flight services.

The government’s answer was posted online Wednesday, about three weeks after Southern Airways and other airlines, on behalf of about 30 community airports, asked for the temporary reduction.

Within the answer, the government agreed to authorize a 50 percent subsidy payment for all non-completed flights, as long as the airline maintained at least one daily roundtrip flight at the community airport served.

The 50 percent payment recognizes “the loss of passenger revenue and other potential losses in the current, highly unusual environment, while supporting the longer-term departmental objective of controlling costs and promoting competition,” the opinion stated.

The airline receives its full subsidy for completed flights.

Plessinger, who was in contact Wednesday with Southern personnel, said he thinks the company is seeing a few more passengers. Nationwide, airlines collectively reported passenger numbers, as of April 9, at 4 percent of 2019’s levels.

Cestari expressed hope when asked about Southern’s decision to retain its current schedule.

He referred to Gov. Tom Wolf’s plan permitting a few businesses to reopen May 8 and for select businesses to resume operations in portions of the state.

“We assume this will drive a demand for more travel to our connecting hubs at Pittsburgh and Baltimore-Washington, and destinations beyond,” Cestari said.

He also said that having multiple flights per day during this transitional time may allow Southern to “best serve the essential and the returning business travelers” who use the local airport.

Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is at 946-7456.

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