Boutique to fly at county airport

Decision to change carriers called ‘good news’

MARTINSBURG — A San Francisco company has been named to provide daily passenger fights at the Altoona-Blair County Airport starting Jan. 1.

In an order posted Monday, the U.S. Department of Transportation said it was accepting Boutique Air’s proposal to serve the county airport over proposals offered by the current flight provider, Southern Airways Express, and by Hyannis Air Service doing business as Cape Air.

The choice drew praise Monday night from Altoona-Blair County Airport Authority Chairman Herb Bolger who called the decision “good news.”

In late May, the authority recommended that Boutique Air receive the Essential Air Service contract based on the company’s proposed use of a Pilatus PC-12 eight-or nine-seat aircraft, its codeshare agreement with American and United Airlines and its promise to set up a car rental agency at the airport.

The authority also endorsed Boutique’s proposal because the company has a maintenance facility at the John Murtha Johnstown ­– Cambria County Airport. That maintenance facility, however, could be up for relocation if the government accepts the Cambria County airport’s recommendation that Cape Air take over daily passenger flights now being provided by Boutique.

Based on the government’s order concerning the Altoona-Blair County Airport, Southern Airways Express is directed to continue providing daily flights, based on the current schedule, through Dec. 31.

“The department expects the air carriers to cooperate in ensuring a smooth transition at Altoona, with Southern ending Dec. 31, 2020, and Boutique inauguarating service the next day with no service hiatus,” states the order signed by David E. Short, deputy assistant secretary for aviation and international affairs.

Southern, which has served the county airport for about six years, currently provides 26 roundtrip flights a week, divided evenly between the Pittsburgh and Baltimore-Washington International airports.

“We assume Boutique will keep the schedule the same as it is,” Altoona-Blair County Airport Manager Tracy Plessinger said Monday.

The government acknowledged that Boutique’s selection will require a higher level of subsidy. The company asked for $2.86 million for the first year, from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31, 2021, and $2.91 million for the second year, from Jan. 1, 2022, to Dec. 31, 2022.

In their proposals, Southern Airways asked for $2.5 million and SkyWest asked for $2.1 million, for the first year of subsidized flight service.

Southern also encouraged the public to weigh in on the choice and drew more than 30 supportive comments from people who do business with the company and from passengers pleased with the airline and its service.

In making its selection, the government referred to the support Boutique drew from airport personnel and local governmental leaders. The government also noted that Boutique’s proposal projected 15,000 passengers annually — double the county airport’s current annual ridership. If that’s realized, then the subsidy for the Altoona-Blair County Airport will fall to less than $200 per passenger for the first time in years, meeting the government’s recommended maximum subsidy for remaining in the EAS program.

“The community and Boutique Air should work together to generate the projected numbers of passengers, given the disparity between recent passenger enplanements and Boutique’s projections,” the government order states.

Mirror Staff Writer Kay

Stephens is at 946-7456.


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