WILLIAMSTOWN - Air travelers hoping to use the Mid-Ohio Valley Regional Airport's service to Cleveland will sleep easier as the United States Department of Transportation has ordered flights to continue until a new service can begin.
"The doom and gloom everyone thought was coming when Silver announced the end of service to Cleveland seems to have been abated," said airport manager Jeff McDougle. "But this is where we do the kabuki dance."
In February, Silver Airways, which provides four flights per day between the two facilities, announced it will end service within its Cleveland network no later than May 15. According to a press release from the airline, the end of these routes is due to a number of issues, including new pilot regulations, low passenger counts for some airports, rising costs and United Airlines will no longer use the Cleveland airport as a hub after the end date.
To prohibit the termination of service issued by the DOT, it states all five airports on the chopping block must have a stay for at least 30 days beyond the original 90-day notice. This will make the end date now June 14.
The order also requests proposals from air carriers interested in providing the Essential Air Service at one, several or all of these airports. Proposals are due to the transportation department by April 17.
It is unclear which, if any, of the airports will receive a bid for service, but McDougle said he is confident the local facility will continue to have service following this issue with Silver.
"I really don't see a reason to worry," he said. "Our passenger numbers are above those of the other airports and we are showing continual growth."
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 from 2013.
"We have our passenger numbers as a positive, which I believe 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."
One change between the current service and possible proposals is the type of aircraft.
The five routes use a Beech 1900D, which is a 19-passenger plane, while Silver Airways is dropping those planes and moving to their Saab 340B Plus Fleet, a 34-passenger plane, according to the airline's press release.
The DOT expects proposals similar to the service each community receives in the 19-seat aircraft. This is 24 weekly nonstop or one-stop round trips for the MOV airport and DuBois, 18 weekly nonstop or one-stop round trips for Bradford and Jamestown and 12 weekly nonstop or one-stop round trips for Franklin.
"When all is said and done, I expect we will have something similar to what we now have, as far as service," McDougle said.
McDougle added this is the government's procedure regarding the program and the communities for which it provides commercial flights.
"I'm just glad it's moving forward," he said. "This news give people wanting to book flights confidence the flight will happen."
These five facilities have received commercial air service via EAS for years, including the current flights from Silver Airways.
McDougle said he expects the DOT to choose the next service before the June 15 end date.
It is unknown where the new service will fly, as it is unlikely for Silver Airways to continue service to a non-hub airport that does not have the connections of a hub.
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.