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June 18, 2014

Silver Airways prevails: Airport authority seeking new pact

— Despite nagging complaints about reliability and scheduling, Johnstown airport leaders are asking the federal government to again award Silver Airways a contract for subsidized commercial flights to Washington’s Dulles International Airport.

But the airline is dropping Altoona-Blair County Airport and putting Johnstown in a loop with DuBois Regional Airport.

Silver’s proposal beat out three other airlines’ bids to put Johnstown into a proposed PIT-Connecter network of commuter flights to Pittsburgh International Airport.

“Over the past couple of months, Silver has improved significantly,” Johnstown-Cambria County Airport Authority Chairman Richard Weaver said, noting there were just three flights canceled in May.

Several things in Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based Silver’s proposal addressed the authority’s concerns.

“We get the early morning flight back, and the two most important flights are also nonstop,” Weaver said. “Two flights go through DuBois, but it’s a better schedule than now, except for those two flights.”

The proposed schedule has Johnstown nonstop departures to Dulles at 6:35 a.m and 2:55 p.m. weekdays. A flight at 9:03 a.m. would stop in DuBois before continuing to Dulles.

Nonstop flights would leave Dulles for Johnstown at 7:55 a.m. and 7:50 p.m. The 12:30 p.m. flight would stop in DuBois en route to Johnstown.

Silver currently operates subsidized flights from DuBois to Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, but would replace that service with the Johnstown-Dulles connection.

Its $4 million a year federal Essential Air Service contract for flights between Johnstown-Altoona and Dulles ends in June.

Silver is asking for $2.4 million a year in federal subsidies to continue the Johnstown service, but only if it is part of a seven-airport, $18.4 million contract under the Essential Air Service program.

In addition to Johnstown and DuBois, Silver wants subsidies for air service to Greenbrier-White Sulphur Springs, Clarksburg-Fairmont, Morgantown and Parkersburg in West Virginia and Staunton, Virginia.

Silver cites its access to a global network of connections through its operation as a United Express carrier and the Dulles hub. In addition, Silver notes that its Saab 340 B-Plus aircraft provides more seating and comforts than the other airlines’ proposed aircraft.

The other airlines that submitted proposals for the Johnstown service are City Link Air of Jacksonville, Florida; Boutique Air of Las Vegas; and SunAir of Dania Beach, Florida.

Randy Griffith covers transportation for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/photogriffer57.

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