Johnstown Airport looking for a new carrier | News, Sports, Jobs
According to Mirror staff reports
The John Murtha Johnstown-Cambria County Airport Authority is looking for a new airline after SkyWest announced it was pulling out of the 29 regional airports it serves in the United States.
On March 9, airports were notified that essential air service provided by SkyWest Airlines would be terminated. The move comes after the COVID-19 pandemic has tested not only SkyWest, but also other airlines, as staffing issues, operating costs and extreme fluctuations in customer demand have weighed on the industry.
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, on March 10, SkyWest filed a 90-day notice of intent to end service in all communities, effective June 8.
“Although SkyWest Airlines Inc. would prefer to continue to provide scheduled air service to these cities, pilot recruitment issues in the airline industry prevent us from doing so,” SkyWest said in its filing.
“We are really disappointed that they are stepping down,” said Heather Tomasko, assistant director of airport administration.
Tomasko credited SkyWest with doubling the number of passengers at the airport since becoming the service provider in December 2020.
SkyWest uses a 50-passenger jet, Tomasko said, which helped bring in more passengers.
Flights from Johnstown were heading to Chicago’s O’Hare and Washington Dulles International Airports, two of United Airlines’ hubs.
This service, she says, “changed the game.”
“The community has really embraced the jet service,” Tomasko said, and the authority is looking for the same type of service to replace SkyWest.
In January, 567 passengers were booked on flights from Johnstown, Tomasko said. In February, the number of outbound passengers was 582. This was the highest number of outbound passengers for those months since 2007 and 2008, she said.
Even during the pandemic, jet service was in demand, with June 2021 with 901 outbound passengers, the highest for that month since 2007.
In July 2021, 1,223 were outgoing compared to 979 in July 2006, she added.
Airlines often see a drop in ridership in January and February due to the winter months, but demand picks up in the spring, Tomasko said.
The total for all of 2021 was 8,519 outbound passengers.
“The last time we even got close was in 2007, when we had 9,601,” Tomasko said.
“We are really looking to get jet service,” she added, pointing out that the figures show “The community is ready to leave Johnstown with jet service and the connection we have provided.”
Prior to SkyWest, Boutique Air served Johnstown Airport. But this type of arrangement is not something the authority wants again, she said.
Boutique did a good job, she said, but while it offered more flights, it used smaller planes.
“Skywest had a stewardess, restrooms…it was just a nicer flight,” she says.
Tomasko credits the airport’s free parking and short TSA lines with attracting local traffic. It’s also a shorter commute than local residents exiting Pittsburgh or Baltimore airports, she said.
SkyWest will continue to serve Johnstown Airport even beyond the 90 days, if necessary, after the US Department of Transportation issued a “maintain order,” which basically means SkyWest has to stay until another airline is in place.
Tomasko said the authority is working with a consultant “to make sure we have the best airline here since SkyWest.”
The U.S. DOT has issued a request for proposals for air carriers to provide essential air service to Johnstown Airport and other affected airports, according to a news release. Air carriers will have to respond to tenders with service offers by April 11.
SkyWest’s notice to end service comes after its Feb. 2, 2022 notice to the US DOT that it intended to reduce service in 16 communities, including Johnstown. In this notice, SkyWest stated “The workforce imbalance caused by the COVID-19 pandemic is hampering SkyWest’s ability to meet this schedule.” Reducing his schedule at the airport would help him maintain reliable service, “otherwise, he would propose times that could lead to extended delays or cancellation”, according to the ministry’s report.
According to the department, SkyWest’s annual contract subsidy rates for Johnstown Airport were $3,424,020.