Yeager Airport Officials Courting Airlines For More Flights

June 11--Coming off the inaugural Charleston to Philadelphia flight last week, Yeager Airport officials discussed more new direct flight options at a board meeting Wednesday.

Specifically, airport officials are working with airlines to restore direct flights to Florida and any of the three main New York City airports.

Last September, the airport received a $700,000 Small Community Air Service Development grant, which will help pay for marketing and startup expenses for a new Florida flight.

Now it needs an airline.

"The good news is two airlines have responded and asked us for more information," said Priscilla Haden, a board member who leads the marketing committee.

Until the summer of 2012, AirTran Airways provided direct air service to Florida from Yeager. However, when Southwest Airlines bought AirTran, the service was dropped, despite the flight performing very well.

Then there's New York City.

Like the Florida route, Yeager previously had direct service to New York City on American airlines. However, American dropped that service in June 2013 when the airline began a new direct flight to Dallas.

In January, the board heard from local attorney Robin Godfrey, who said he has been trying to build community support for a New York flight. Godfrey was at Wednesday's meeting.

"To me, any of those airports would be acceptable," he said of the three major airports in and around New York City.

Airport Director Rick Atkinson said he also supports the return of New York service, and said American likely broke even or took a slight loss on an average flight from Charleston to New York, which cost the airline $4,000 to $4,500 to operate.

However, changes have happened in the industry since the last New York flight from Charleston, particularly the ongoing merger between US Airways and American Airlines. In addition, American no longer operates the small 37-seat aircraft that flew the Yeager-New York route.

The airline merger could affect a New York flight in a positive way because US Airways has many more frequent fliers in Charleston than American, Atkinson said. Because the airlines are also merging their frequent flier programs, the end result is that the new American Airlines will have a sizable number of local frequent fliers.

Still, there would be hurdles to overcome.

All three main New York City airports are slot-controlled, meaning the number of flights in and out of those airports is strictly regulated. In addition, scheduling would need to be made convenient for business travelers, who would likely support the flight financially.

The last time a New York flight operated from Charleston, an outbound flight from Yeager left in the morning and an inbound flight returned in the evening. While that was an easy setup for those coming from Charleston, business travelers from New York effectively had to spend two nights in the city for one day of business, Atkinson said.

"It was a great schedule for people that want to do business in New York," he said.

Despite the obstacles, airport officials said they would still be looking for ways to get a flight off the ground.

"I think it's good to let the public know we haven't forgotten about this and we're pursuing it," Haden said.

Haden also pointed out that Yeager's new direct flight to Philadelphia also provides a quick way to New York, since Amtrak operates a train station at the Philadelphia Airport, which serves the Northeast Corridor.

"I don't think people generally know that and I think that is a plus for the Philadelphia line," Haden said.

Haden said she encourages the public to contact Sen. Jay Rockefeller's office if they support a New York City service. Airport officials said Rockefeller could help convince an airline to bring New York service to Yeager due to Rockefeller's committee appointments, including as the chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation.

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