MARTINSBURG — Members of the Altoona-Blair County Airport Authority collectively support the proposed use of a jet for daily passenger flights at the local facility.
Contour Airlines, the Smyrna, Tennessee-based carrier recommended to support daily passenger flights, flew a 30-passenger jet to the airport on Tuesday.
“Impressive,” Authority member Tom Hite said of the plane.
“A 1000% upgrade”, added Authority member Herb Bolger.
If the authority’s request to enter the Alternate Essential Air Service program is approved by the U.S. Department of Transportation, Contour would begin serving the airport on October 1 with daily flights to and from the airport of Philadelphia, an American Airlines hub where passengers can make connections. non-stop flights to several destinations.
The county airport currently depends on San Francisco-based Boutique Air to provide daily passenger flights to Pittsburgh and Baltimore-Washington international airports via a Pilatus-PC 12 turboprop with eight passenger seats.
In 2021, Boutique flew nearly 9,000 passengers to and from the county airport, the most since 2009.
In June, Boutique flew 1,024 passengers to and from the county airport, a record for the airline since service began Jan. 1, 2021.
Airport executives say they are happy with Boutique’s service, but the cost of future service has prompted them to consider other options.
Earlier this year, Boutique applied to the government for $4.28 million a year in Essential Air Services Grant to serve the county airport. At that price, Boutique would have to sell every seat on every flight to meet government rules for airports to stay in the EAS program.
“It’s not realistic” member Gary Orner said at Tuesday night’s monthly authorities meeting. “We had to do what we had to because the Boutique numbers weren’t going to allow us to keep our Essential Air Service subsidy.”
After the authority voted in June to pursue entry into the AEAS program, airport manager Tracy Plessinger filed an application with the Department of Transportation, seeking a $4.28 million grant that could be given at the airport, to pay Contour Airlines for its first year of flying.
Because Contour flies a 30-seat aircraft, the growth in passenger numbers is expected to help Altoona-Blair County Airport continue its efforts to reduce its subsidy to less than $200 per passenger, one rules for staying in the EAS and AEAS programs.
While the Altoona-Blair County airport subsidy was listed at $225 per passenger in June, this is an improvement from higher levels from years ago, when the airport has been granted waivers to remain in the EAS program while continuing with improvements.
Until 2014, travelers using the county airport had access to one large aircraft, a 34-seat twin-engine Saab flown by Silver Airways. But canceled flights and other complaints prompted the airport authority to back Sun Air’s proposal for passenger flight service.
In 2014, Sun Air introduced flights in an eight-seater aircraft. Its successors, Southern Airways and Boutique, also relied on small single-engine aircraft.
Airport Authority member Mike Ritchey said he believed Contour’s use of a 30-seat jet would make a difference for those flying to and from the county airport. He also described the jet as more reliable and faster than the smaller aircraft.
“Just jet service,” Ritchey said. “It’s so important.”
The Huntingdon County Visitors Bureau recently posted a comment on the Department of Transportation’s website, expressing the concern of its members in the Raystown Lake area about the expected loss of flights to and from Pittsburgh airports. and BWI.
Plessinger said most airport passengers in the county — about 85% — fly connecting flights at Pittsburgh and BWI airports.
When Contour begins flying to Philadelphia and possibly Charlotte in the future, Plessinger said their route options will increase.
“The more convenient we can make this, the better we serve our community,” said Plessinger.
The Huntingdon County agency also expressed concern over the loss of rental car service provided by Boutique at the county airport. Earlier efforts to establish car rental services did not last.
Plessinger said Contour Airlines CEO Matt Chaifetz, who arrived on the jet being transported to the airport on Tuesday, pledged his company’s cooperation.
“(Chaifetz) said, ‘You let me in here and we’ll start building the numbers and (the car rental companies) will come to you'” said Plessinger.
As for Contour’s ticket prices, Plessinger said the estimated cost is between $39 and $79, depending on booking dates and other factors. Contour’s website also shows that it sometimes offers discounted rates as low as $18.99 for last-minute bookings.
Until the airport authority receives approval for entry into the AEAS program, the federal government has ordered Boutique Air to continue flight service at the county airport on its current schedule.
The government also recently issued an order stating that effective May 11 and until further notice, Boutique will be compensated based on its claim for the $4.28 million grant, which is equivalent to $1,583 per flight.
Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is at 814-946-7456.