Silver Airways ending flights to Cleveland

WILLIAMSTOWN – Commercial air service is expected to continue with a new destination after Silver Airways announced Friday the upcoming end of flights with Cleveland Hopkins International Airport.

Silver Airways, which provides four commercial flights a day, said it will end service within its Cleveland network in 90 days.

According to a press release from the airline, in an attempt to strengthen the operations, service will discontinue between Cleveland Hopkins International Airport and the five following communities no later than May 15: Jamestown, N.Y.; Bradford, Pa.; DuBois, Pa.; Franklin, Pa.; and the Mid-Ohio Valley.

Silver provides the service as a United Airlines flight, as the two airlines have a codesharing agreement to allow the smaller airline to fly under the national airline’s banner. Last month, United announced it would drop Cleveland as a hub.

“This is all part of the process that we knew was coming,” said Mid-Ohio Valley Regional Airport manager Jeff McDougle. “They have to do this, as part of the EAS (Essential Air Service) process; they have to send a 90-day letter of intent to end service.”

McDougle said he learned Friday morning during a phone call with the airline of the end of the current service. The airline has provided service since October 2010, when it was Gulfstream International Airlines. It became Silver Airways in May 2011 after being purchased by Chicago-based investment firm Victory Park Capital.

In the press release, Dave Pflieger, president and CEO of Silver Airways, said changes such as retiring old, smaller planes for their newer, larger aircraft; new federal regulations related to pilot certifications with new flight duty limitations; and requirements and significantly increasing operating costs led to the decision, joined by United’s decision to leave Cleveland.

With the intent to end the current service to Cleveland official, the next step is for the U.S. Department of Transportation to rebid the service for those five airports. These facilities have received commercial air service via EAS for years, including the current flights from Silver Airways.

The new service will likely be chosen by the USDOT before the current service ends in May so the communities will not be without, McDougle said.

It is unknown if Silver Airways will bid for all five of the communities, according to the press release.

“While we have announced our plans to exit these markets, we remain interested in serving any community or airport where our larger aircraft can operate economically,” said Pflieger. “The plans… are a necessary and important component to improve our operational performance, deliver world-class customer service, and strengthen our network, so we and our teammates can continue to build a best-in-class next generation regional airline.”

McDougle believes the Mid-Ohio Valley Regional Airport is one of the airports that will continue to receive service when all is said and done.

“Our 8,000 last year passengers makes us a positive bet for continued service,” said McDougle. “We will work things out.”

In fact, the Mid-Ohio Valley Regional Airport had the largest number of enplanements for 2013 of any of the five airports the airline is looking at.

Compared with the local 8,000; Bradford had 2,268; DuBois saw 4,824; Franklin had 1,222; and Jamestown had 2,952, according to information available from United Airlines.

“We have our passenger numbers as a positive, which will help us when Silver decides who to keep and who to let go,” McDougle said. “Our passenger numbers are the highest our airport has had in more than seven years, which is not only great for us, but also for Silver.

“Hopefully, at the end of day, what we have going for us is our growing number of enplanements,” he said.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., and U.S. Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., have expressed their support for the airport.

“Protecting air service in Parkersburg is a long-held commitment of mine,” said Rockefeller. “I know how important the flights out of this airport are to families in this community and the region’s economy.”

McKinley echoed the longtime senator’s sentiments and said he and Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., and Bill Johnson, R-Ohio, will try to protect the airport.

“Today’s news is very concerning and disappointing,” McKinley said. “In the past we’ve worked to maintain Essential Air Service and keep the air traffic control towers open; now we will work with local officials to explore other options.”

When the new bids are presented to the USDOT, it is unknown where the flights will be destined, McDougle said.

“At this point, where the airlines choose to take us is out of our hands,” McDougle said. “But, I am sure what is offered will be a good alternative to what we have now.”

The closest United Airlines hub is Washington Dulles International Airport near Washington, D.C., while Charlotte Douglas International Airport in Charlotte, N.C., and Philadelphia International Airport in Philadelphia are hubs for the former Continental Airlines, which was purchased by United Airlines last year to create United Continental Holdings.