Flight plan at airport up in the air

WILLIAMSTOWN – The impact of the loss of the Cleveland airport as a hub for United Airlines continues to baffle the manager of the Mid-Ohio Valley Regional Airport.

“We are still flying to Cleveland now, but I have no idea where we will be flying in the future,” said manager Jeff McDougle.

Earlier this month, in a memo to employees, Chicago-based United Continental Holds Inc. announced plans to drop Cleveland as a hub for connecting flights, which will result in as many as 470 jobs lost.

By dropping about 60 percent of United Airlines departures from Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, the Mid-Ohio Valley Regional Airport will likely have to fly somewhere else.

“Without those flights available, we will have to go to another United hub in order to continue to serve those who fly through us in a similar manner as we do now,” McDougle said.

The Mid-Ohio Valley Regional Airport has had four flights a day to and from Cleveland Hopkins International Airport in Cleveland since October 2010 with service provided by Silver Airways by a codeshare contract agreement with United.

McDougle said the three closest United Airlines hubs are Charlotte Douglas International Airport in Charlotte, N.C., Philadelphia International Airport in Philadelphia, Pa., and Washington Dulles International Airport near Washington, D.C.

“Where the airlines (United and Silver) choose to take us is out of our local hands,” McDougle said. “But, really, any of those hubs would be a good alternative to Cleveland.”

United Airlines is working with Silver Airways and other regional airlines it has partnered with to ensure smaller airports like the Mid-Ohio Valley Regional Airport continue to receive service, said Rahsaan Johnson, director of public relations for United Airlines in Chicago.

“I can’t, for competitive reasons discuss specific service considerations, but we are exploring… any opportunities to serve Parkersburg and the region profitably,” Johnson said.

As more specifics are determined by the regional airlines and United Airlines, they will be announced, Johnson said.

With the loss of not only the flights, but the jobs, Gov. John Kasich has said the state of Ohio will work with United to reconsider the decision.

United Continental CEO Jeff Smisek said the company’s daily departures from Cleveland will fall from 199 to 72 by June and will be in one-third increments in April, May and June.

“The demand for hub-level connecting flying through Cleveland simply isn’t there,” Smisek said in the Feb. 1 letter to workers. “Ultimately, we can’t create demand, but we do have a responsibility to react to it.

“We must make the right business decisions, even when those decisions are painful.”

The move comes amid cost-cutting at United. In November the world’s No. 2 airline said it plans to reduce annual expenses by $2 billion by 2017 by shifting flights, making workers more productive, and improving its maintenance procedures.

Similar cutbacks have affected other small hubs such as Memphis, Cincinnati and Salt Lake City amid a wave of airline mergers during the past five years.

The Mid-Ohio Valley Regional Airport receives its commercial air service with Silver Airways by the United States Department of Transportation’s federal Essential Air Service (EAS) program.

The airport’s EAS is up for bid this year with a new service expected to begin Oct. 1, according to McDougle.

“The current EAS contract is up in the fall and I am interested to see who the bidders are,” he said.

Silver Airways’ two-year contract to provide service locally was approved by the USDOT and began Oct. 1, 2012, after the airline was the only bidder.

(The Associated Press contributed to this article.)