Friday, June 13, 2014

Sen. Casey urges Department of Transportation to preserve commercial air service at Lancaster Airport (KLNS)

You could say that Casey went to bat for Lancaster Airport.

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey on Wednesday urged U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx to overturn a tentative order that would lead to the end of commercial air service here.

Casey, the Pennsylvania Democrat, encouraged Foxx to keep Lancaster Airport in the Essential Air Service subsidy program.

The $2.5 million annual subsidy goes to Sun Air, allowing the small airline to make a profit on its flights between Lancaster Airport and Dulles International Airport, outside Washington D.C.

Casey, in a prepared statement, said commercial air service “boosts the local economy. I will continue to make this issue a priority...”

In April, the U.S. Department of Transportation issued a tentative order ending the subsidies to 13 small airports, including Lancaster Airport.

That would cause the airlines serving those airports to lose money on those routes and most likely eliminate the service.

All 13 airports fell short of the minimum number of average daily commercial passengers (10) needed to get EAS money. During fiscal 2013, Lancaster Airport had 6.3.

David Eberly, director of Lancaster Airport, said the airport has confirmed the accuracy of the DOT figure, but has yet to have its chance to explain it.

Eberly noted that Sun Air, which started flights here in November 2012, had a host of start-up problems that temporarily depressed the number of passengers.

Eberly noted that in its initial months of service, Sun Air canceled more than half of its flights because its planes had no heat or de-icing equipment.

Now that those problems have been fixed, Sun Air is carrying on average about 10 passengers (arriving plus departing) a day. “If we’re not, we’re very close,” he said.

Eberly noted that Sun Air’s predecessor, Cape Air, was “well over” the threshold.

When Sun Air got off to that slow start, Eberly recalled, DOT officials urged him to be patient with the airline.

It’s not like Lancaster Airport had a lot of better options, they pointed out.

They noted that the first time DOT sought candidates to succeed Cape Air, no airline bid. The second time, Sun Air was the only bidder.

“When the time comes (for Lancaster Airport to discuss the order with DOT officials), I think they’ll be sympathetic to our situation,” said Eberly. “I think they’ll have a listening ear and understand.”

Sun Air provides five daily roundtrips between Lancaster and Dulles weekdays and three daily roundtrips Saturdays and Sundays.

“Now that they have more than a year under they’re belts, they’re doing a nice job,” he said. “They’re professional, they’re meeting their obligations and they’re performing on time.”


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