Home Travel consultant Jet set: airport officials seek new carriers; officials keep SkyWest in Johnstown until a replacement is found | News

Jet set: airport officials seek new carriers; officials keep SkyWest in Johnstown until a replacement is found | News


JOHNSTOWN, Pa. — Local airport officials said they’re confident an order from the U.S. Department of Transportation gives them the time they need to allow for a smooth transition from their current carrier to a new one this summer .

But members of the Johnstown-Cambria County Airport Authority do not plan to wait for federal authorities to find their next airline. In an 8-0 vote, the board approved a three-month deal with an airline industry consultant to help them convince another jet service to land here.

“Finding another reliable jet carrier is our top priority,” said board chairman Rick McQuaide.

“We are confident (the federal order) will ensure that we will have air service from SkyWest until another carrier is found,” said airport manager Cory Cree, “but we also know that there are 28 other airports looking for a new carrier, which is why it was so important for us to act quickly.

SkyWest, which offers daily flights to Chicago O’Hare and Washington’s Dulles under the United banner, this week announced plans to cut service to its 29 Essential Air Service cities, including Johnstown.

The federal order issued Wednesday prohibits the airline from ceasing contract service at this time, requiring SkyWest to continue serving those airports at least until June or until new suppliers are found.

SkyWest’s decision to drop the program was both sudden and potentially dampened the local airport’s momentum. Under SkyWest, the airport’s passenger numbers have steadily reached levels the facility hasn’t seen in 15 years.

“We were in constant contact,” McQuaide said. “We knew they were happy with the growth they were seeing here.”

While the airline industry saw air travel drop 27% nationwide in 2021 from pre-pandemic levels in 2019, Johnstown boardings soared to 8,519 in 2021, a 35% increase over 2019 under a legacy carrier.

Boardings represent the number of people who boarded flights in Johnstown – in this case, to Chicago or Washington, D.C.

Local boardings from March 2021 to February 2022 were even higher, at 9,376, the figures show.

A total of 17,009 people flew to or from Johnstown Airport via SkyWest in 2021. And month after month, it looked like the totals kept rising, Cree said.

Cree and McQuaide credit SkyWest with showing the industry that the region will embrace local air travel if it’s both reliable and direct to major hubs.

As the airline industry struggles to staff planes, Johnstown airport officials hope their proven success will be enough to encourage another carrier to step in.

On Friday, officials accepted an offer from Texas-based ArkStar to help them find the right carrier. The main objective will be to attract another jet service. SkyWest uses 50-seat planes that local travelers seem to be adopting, airport officials said.

McQuaide said airport officials began picking up the phones to approach other airlines within hours of learning SkyWest was leaving.

ArkStar’s Gary Foss, who worked in planning for American Airlines for decades before becoming a consultant, has already done work for Johnstown Airport and his next contract, up to $16,000, will expand that, by focusing first on jet carriers and those with smaller twins. motors as a second option.

A nationwide numbers game complicates the main objective. First, airlines across the United States are facing a shortage of pilots which has only gotten worse over the past year with retirements and a lingering pandemic. The second is that there are only a handful of carriers within the Essential Air Service program that offer jet service, McQuaide said.

This includes Contour Air and American Eagle Air, which fly under the American Airlines banner to the airline’s hub, Charlotte, North Carolina, and other destinations. Another, Key Lime Air, is a growing Midwestern airline that serves airports under the Denver Air brand from Arizona to Chicago.

“We have already approached these carriers – and others,” McQuaide said. “We are confident that we will find another carrier. … It’s just a matter of who.

Continued reliability “is our primary goal,” he added, “because people depend on their flights arriving on time.”

Airport officials may not have to look far for an option.

Boutique Air, their former carrier, operates a maintenance hangar on the east end of the airfield, employing a dozen mechanics who service the twin-engine aircraft that serve Altoona and other regional airports. Cree said Boutique has grown to the point that it may need to expand onto airport property.

“We’re talking to everyone right now, including them,” he said.

The US Department of Transportation is giving airlines until April 11 to submit proposals that would detail the number of flights they would offer from Johnstown, the price and the planes they would use.

The department makes the final decision, but will weigh heavily on recommendations from Johnstown Airport officials, making the recruitment process an important step.

“This is our chance to find our best option,” McQuaide said.

Thanks to the contract with Foss, his company will also sue the airlines through a separate legal case this spring. This will include marketing the airport and its latest flight figures to low-cost carriers such as Frontier, Breeze, Allegiant and JetBlue with the aim of adding direct weekly flights to popular travel destinations, Cree said. .