United hub decision may affect airport

WILLIAMSTOWN – Local planners are assessing the impact to commercial air service at the Mid-Ohio Valley Regional Airport following the announcement that United Continental will drop Cleveland as a hub.

Airport Manager Jeff McDougle said the decision to no longer use Cleveland Hopkins International Airport as a hub had been discussed for a while.

“When the merger between United and Continental started a couple of years ago, the airline released a list of possible hubs to drop and Cleveland was part of it,” McDougle said. “We just don’t know what that means for us.”

McDougle said airlines often drop smaller hubs following a merger of two or more companies.

“When mergers go through, the airlines find there’s no value to the smaller hubs,” he said. “Cleveland has been losing money for Continental for years.”

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

The service was recently extended for another two years by the U.S. Department of Transportation as it is part of the federal Essential Air Service program.

In a memorandum 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.

“The demand for hub-level connecting flying through Cleveland simply isn’t there,” Chief Executive Jeff 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.”

Cleveland will remain a destination, although the number of average daily departures from Cleveland will shrink by about 60 percent when the majority of regional flights are dropped. New flight schedules for airports who receive service through United Continental will be in place by June, according to the letter.

Smisek said the Cleveland hub hasn’t been profitable for more than a decade and has generated tens of millions of dollars of annual losses in recent years. New federal regulations and a shortage of pilots was affecting regional flights.

No pilots or flight attendants are expected to be cut. The majority of reductions will be made among airport operations workers and some catering employees.

The move comes amid cost-cutting at United. In November, United, the world’s No. 2 airline, said it plans to reduce annual expenses by $2 billion by 2017.