The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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December 21, 2013

Airline behind on rent

Issue concerns airport officials

JOHNSTOWN — Silver Airline is three months behind on its rent.

That’s more than $17,000 and the airport authority sees it as a sign of big problems.

“This is very bad writing on the wall,” Solicitor Timothy Leventry said at this month’s Johnstown-Cambria County Airport Authority meeting.

“It is more than a the-check-is-in-the-mail thing,” he said, noting that several other airlines recently declared bankruptcy.

Even while they continue working with Silver’s leaders, airport officials have joined a feasibility study to form a network of smaller airports with multiple daily Pittsburgh connector flights.

Silver receives up to $3,997,187 a year in federal Essential Air Service subsidies to operate 18 flights a week between Johnstown-Altoona and Dulles International Airport near Washington.

It includes three flights each weekday, one on Saturday and two on Sunday.

Essential Air Service was instituted to maintain commercial air service in smaller airports. Member airports must maintain a minimum of 10 enplanements per day. Despite declining ridership, Johnstown and Altoona meet that minimum, and Silver has indicated it will apply to renew its contract in June.

Other Pennsylvania airports are not so lucky. Bradford and Venango regional airports may lose the funding. Both are exploring the PIT Connector Project, which uses the PIT federal navigation symbol for Pittsburgh International Airport.

Like Johnstown’s leaders, Bradford’s airport authority has expressed dissatisfaction with Silver’s efforts to build ridership. In September, the Bradford authority asked the federal government to terminate Silver’s Essential Air Service contract, while asking for a one-year waiver from the minimum ridership requirement so another airline would have a chance to reclaim the lost business.

The PIT Connector Project is funded by the Pittsburgh airport to help ridership there, Johnstown authority Chairman Richard Weaver said.

“It’s still in the talking stages,” Weaver said.

The idea is to show an airline there is enough interest to support the flights, he explained. That airline could apply for contracts to receive the federal money from at least some of the participating airports.

One proposal calls for six flights a day between Johnstown and Pittsburgh with a nine-passenger commuter plane. Altoona would have a separate plane and its own six-flight schedule, Weaver said.

Declining ridership, blamed in part on reliability issues with Silver, could impact the airport’s budget, accountant Dennis Kotzan warned while reviewing the 2014 budget, which projects revenues of  $726,137 and expenses of $621,681 for airport operations.

Although authority members and Cambria County commissioners suggested using the $104,456 difference to pay down some debt early in the year, Kotzan warned that the cushion may not be as thick as it looks.

“There is a concern about hangar rental and other income,” Kotzan said. “The $104,000 may not even be there. That’s a concern. Without the airline, that could be a problem.”

Randy Griffith is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/photogriffer57.

 

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