The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Editorials

December 24, 2013

Silver Airways has lost its sparkle | Facing barriers such as debt, canceled flights

JOHNSTOWN — Silver Airways is struggling to get more than its flights out on time.

The United Express operator, which has 18 flights per week between Johnstown-Altoona and Dulles International Airport near Washington, hasn’t paid rent here in three months, according to Timothy Leventry, solicitor for the Johnstown-Cambria County Airport Authority.

The airline owes more than $17,000 locally, which isn’t good news for our airport or those who depend on it.

We don’t know the financial details of the Florida-based company, which recently entered a partnership with JetBlue, but the revelation is a startling one.

“This is very bad writing on the wall,” Leventry told reporter Randy Griffith last week. “It is more than a the-check-is-in-the-mail thing.”

Silver receives nearly $4 million per year in federal Essential Air Service subsidies in an effort to sustain service between Johnstown-Altoona and Dulles.

The airline ruffled some feathers last month when it decided to drop the most popular flight from Johnstown to Washington. An early morning flight, which was used by travelers looking to fly to the nation’s capital on business and be back in Cambria County the same evening, was

canceled. That means that the earliest flight out of Johnstown now leaves at 9:57 a.m., stops in Altoona and doesn’t arrive at Dulles until 11:43 a.m. The latest flight from Dulles to Johnstown is at 5:45 p.m. and – after another stop in Altoona – isn’t scheduled to arrive until 7:36 p.m.

That six-hour window leaves precious little time for business meetings in D.C., especially when travel time to and from the airport and heightened security procedures are taken into account. When those are factored in, the travel time is almost the same to make the three-hour drive from Johnstown to Washington.

We wonder if Silver is interested in building ridership here. It seems a fair question, especially in light of the September decision by the Bradford Regional Airport to ask the federal government to terminate Silver’s Essential Air Service contract.

Johnstown’s leaders aren’t ready to do that yet, but Richard Weaver, Johnstown airport authority chairman, said that the group is looking at proposals that would add flights to Pittsburgh.

While we hope that Silver can continue to provide service to the Washington market, there are some major issues that need to be resolved. In light of the monetary problems with Silver and its inability to build ridership, we encourage the authority to look at alternatives.

We believe direct flights to Florida would sell out. If you don’t believe us, just take a trip to Arnold Palmer Regional Airport in Labrobe. You cannot find a parking spot on any given day.

As for Johnstown travelers, our advice is: buckle up. It could be a bumpy ride.

 

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