July 13--JOHNSTOWN -- What started as an informational program with a top state aviation official became a brainstorming session with business leaders addressing challenges faced by John Murtha Johnstown Cambria County Airport.
"You have an excellent facility," Eric Madden, PennDOT deputy secretary for aviation, rail freight, ports and waterways, said Tuesday at the Holiday Inn -- Downtown in Johnstown.
"You have a jewel here that I hope you appreciate. We are in an area where some airports, frankly, are going away."
There are 823 public and private airports in the state, but only 15 have scheduled commercial flight service like Johns-town, Madden said.
"This airport is very important to this economy," he said.
"For many people, the airport is the gateway to the community. It is big business to have access to this airport."
That all may be true, Sandi McQuaide of Richland said during the Greater Johnstown/Cambria County Chamber of Commerce event, but many travelers don't like paying more for tickets and facing additional flight cancellations out of the local airport.
"I do not find it convenient to fly out of Johnstown," McQuaide said. "It is much more convenient to fly out of Pittsburgh, but I'd rather fly out of Johnstown."
Airport authority member Raymond Porsch urged McQuaide and others to give Johnstown flights another chance.
"We have almost 98 percent reliability factor," Porsch said. "I think the airport authority has made a lot of gains in the past few years."
Although fares are always going to be higher from Johns-town, Porsch said, the prices have become more competitive, especially factoring in the cost and aggravation of driving to a larger airport and parking.
Colgan Air adjusted the commuter flight schedule in response to the authority's request and a study showing an early morning departure was needed, Porsch said, adding that the new schedule has helped bring more passengers.
It's going to take more than a schedule change to bring ridership above the magic 10,000-a-year mark that triggers an additional $850,000 in federal airport improvement funds, chamber Chairwoman Chris Cox said.
"There is not an aggressive marketing campaign for the airport," Cox said. "That has to be a priority. You are not front and center."
Madden agreed, and suggested a taking a direct approach to reaching local leaders and travelers.
"You have to think beyond the fence," Madden said, urging airport advocates to speak at municipal meetings and business and civic organizations.
"They have to know this is here," Madden said. "They have to know the impact."
There is not much money for marketing in the county-owned airport's budget, Porsch said, but Colgan has agreed to bring in a marketing campaign to build ridership on its federally subsidized service. Airport marketing staff will visit businesses for input.
Madden urged the community prepare for the airline's visit, saying that the group assembled for Tuesday's luncheon represented the critical players.
"Before they come visit, you need to get your own plan," Madden said. "Your stars are here. It takes just a little work to get them aligned."
The message for the airline should be unified and positive, Johnstown City Manager Kristen Denne said.
"I think the biggest problem in Johnstown is an image problem," Denne said. "It is not a socioeconomic problem. If you expect more of things, you get larger results."
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