Airport talks service offers

WILLIAMSTOWN – The Mid-Ohio Valley Regional Airport received four bids to provide federally subsidized commercial air service to residents of the area.

“I think it’s great we have so much interest,” said Wood County Airport Authority president Bill Richardson.

The airlines that sent bid packages to the United States Department of Transportation are Boutique Air, City Link Air, Silver Airways and Sun Air Express.

“All of these bids are for two years,” said airport manager Jeff McDougle. “While we know Silver, there is a lot we don’t know about the other three airlines.”

San Francisco-based Boutique Air provides commercial service between Los Angeles, Calif., and Las Vegas, Nev., along with charter flights. This airline uses a nine-seat Pilatus PC-12 aircraft and has offered passengers of the Mid-Ohio Valley two options. These two choices are 36 nonstop flights per week to Pittsburgh International Airport at a subsidy of $2,335,785. The second option is 24 nonstop flights per week to Pittsburgh and 12 nonstop flights at a subsidy of $3,403,724.

Airports in 10 other locations that are part of this bid package also have a double hub option where it will end some flights in Pittsburgh while the other flights will be between Dulles and the local facility.

City Link Air is based out of Jacksonville, Fla., and proposed 37 nonstop flights between the local airport and Pittsburgh per week. These flights will be in Beech 1900, 19-seat aircraft. This package will cost $2,655,598 annually.

Sun Air Express, based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., has submitted a proposal for service to Pittsburgh from the airports in Bradford, Pa.; DuBois, Pa.; Franklin, Pa.; Jamestown, N.Y.; and locally. Each of these airports has a different number of flights in their proposal with the MOV bid having 36 weekly roundtrip flights six during weekdays and three each Saturday and Sunday.

Sun Air will use smaller planes in these bids – an eight-passenger Piper Chieftain. The plane can accommodate nine passengers if one of the two pilots stays behind. This annual projected subsidy is $2,742,761 for the MOV routes.

Silver Airways has been providing service between the local airport and Cleveland Hopkins International Airport in Cleveland since October 2010. Cleveland is no longer in the running for Essential Air Service flights because it is no longer a hub for any major airline, which makes it difficult for passengers to catch flights to their desired destination.

Silver’s bid is for Altoona, Pa.; Johnstown, Pa.; Greenbrier/White Sulphur Springs, W.Va.; Beckley, W.Va.; Clarksburg, W.Va.; Morgantown, W.Va.; Staunton, Va.; DuBois, Pa.; and Parkersburg. This airline is working to get rid of its Beech 1900 aircraft, which sat 19 passengers, and will use Saab 3400, 34-passenger, planes for these flights.

While all bids for these nine facilities offer service to Washington Dulles International Airport, near Washington, D.C., there are a different number of flights and schedule options dependent on the airport community’s needs.

The airline’s bid for the local service is 18 flights per week. These include 12 nonstop to and from Dulles and six that will stop in Morgantown or Clarksburg’s airports along the way.

“If Silver is awarded, passengers will have toilets and flight attendants,” McDougle said. “The airline will also keep a crew and plane locally.”

The total annual subsidy for all airports will be $23,610,300. The total cost of the local service to Dulles alone is $3,505,876, annually.

Now that the bids are available, members of both the Mid-Ohio Valley Regional Airport Authority – the marketing arm of the airport – and the Wood County Airport Authority – the facility’s managing arm – will look through the bids and discuss which they think is best for the airport and community.

The biggest thing the boards will have to decide is if they are willing to take a chance by flying into Pittsburgh because of the smaller number of flights from the facility.

Pittsburgh has 145 domestic and international flights a day while Dulles has 300 domestic and another 52 international flights each day, in comparison.

“Dulles flies to almost as many cities internationally as Pittsburgh does domestically,” McDougle pointed out.

Another issue with Pittsburgh is the fact eight of the daily flights are provided by Southwest Airlines, which does not have interline agreements with any other airline. This means travelers have to get their bag from baggage claim, re-check it and go back through security to get on their connecting flight.

“I’m not sure many passengers will be happy if this is what they have to do to fly with us,” McDougle said.

Officials with Boutique Air, City Link Air and Sun Air Express are expected to participate in an informational program at the Pittsburgh International Airport on May 16. McDougle, former airport manager and current Wood County Airport Authority member Terry Moore and several others with the local airport plan to attend the event to have a better idea about the feasibility of the bids from these airports.

The Mid-Ohio Valley Regional Airport Authority is expected to decide between the two bids and make a recommendation to the DOT, which is due by May 28.

This is because the essential air service is provided by the U.S. Department of Transportation, which chooses the bids for the airports.

Essential Air Service is a federal program that provides funding to airline companies that serve rural areas. Companies receive federal funding for every completed flight.