Sep. 20—JOHNSTOWN, Pa. — Jet service at John Murtha Johnstown Cambria County Airport is expected to continue without interruption after leaders on Tuesday recommended SkyWest Airlines be awarded a new, two-year federally subsidized contract.
Under its proposal, SkyWest will receive $6,887,013 during 2024 and $7,369,104 in 2025 to operate 12 round-trip flights a week among Johnstown, Washington Dulles International Airport and Chicago O'Hare International Airport with 50-passenger jets. The airline has agreed to continue operating two round trips a week at its own expense so there are two flights every day.
Average fares are listed as $102 for Chicago flights and $68 for Washington.
"We could not be happier with the service," authority member Michael Parrish said after Tuesday's meeting.
"We are ecstatic that they agreed to continue offering two flights a day."
Although the final decision rests with the federal Department of Transportation, airport Manager Cory Cree is confident the approval will be swift.
"I've already talked to the DOT, and they are in favor of Southwest," Cree said.
The federal Essential Air Service program pays airlines to serve some smaller airports so those communities are connected to the national air grid.
Tuesday's unanimous 7-0 vote showed the authority's satisfaction with SkyWest's performance over the past three years, Parrish said. In contrast, the 2000 vote was 6-3, with three in support of Boutique Airlines, which was the legacy carrier at the time.
Boutique had brought its regional maintenance operation to the Johnstown airfield, employing more than a dozen workers. That operation continued in Johnstown until Boutique lost the Altoona Essential Air Service contract last year.
Parrish said SkyWest's success in Johnstown is "clear evidence the authority acted wisely when it made the difficult decision to switch from the incumbent carrier (Boutique) to SkyWest three years ago."
Under SkyWest, the airport has had passenger counts not seen in nearly two decades. This week, the total enplanements for 2023 will top 10,000 for the first time since 2006, with more than two months left in the year. The 10,000-enplanement threshold makes the difference between an annual $100,000 federal grant for airport improvements and a $1 million grant.
In addition, SkyWest has become a vital partner in local aviation education efforts by donating a jet to St. Francis University for its aircraft maintenance program and providing job placement help for graduates of the airline pilot program.
The transportation department extended the deadline for proposals twice because SkyWest had applied to operate the Johnstown flights under its charter service. Part of the idea was to have more pilots available because the mandatory retirement age for charter pilots is slightly older than for commercial pilots.
The Air Line Pilots Association union filed an objection, claiming SkyWest is using a "regulatory loophole" to put older pilots in the cockpits, suggesting safety concerns.
While SkyWest's proposal was not rejected, its delay prompted the airline to continue the existing service, Cree said.
When SkyWest asked to end its service last year due to the pilot shortage, four airlines submitted proposals for the Johnstown Service. This time around only Southern Air Express submitted a competing proposal. Southern served the Johnstown Airport from November 2016 through November 2018.
Southern's two proposals each include 30 flights a week on a nine-passenger turboprop aircraft. One proposal would split the flights, with 21 round-trips to Washington Dulles and nine to Pittsburgh International Airport. The other would send all 30 flights to Dulles.
It asked for a subsidy of $3,385,943 for the split service or $3,389,231 for the Dulles-only service.
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