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Sun Air makes Pittsburgh a ‘focus city’ with 3 more regional flights into airport

Allegheny County officials announced Wednesday that Fort Lauderdale-based Sun Air Express will make Pittsburgh a “focus city,” adding three regional flights into Pittsburgh International Airport as part of a federally-subsidized program.

The routes to Lancaster, Franklin and Bradford will begin before the end of the year, officials said, bringing the number of Sun Air’s regional routes to five.

Sun Air last month said it would operate non-stop flights to Jamestown, N.Y., and Altoona four times daily, Mondays through Fridays, and two round-trip flights on weekends beginning in November.

The new routes are significant not because there are hordes of passengers in Pittsburgh demanding access to those places, but because Pittsburgh will become the gateway airport for those smaller towns.

“It’s an opportunity to not only serve Pittsburgh passengers but add customers from these five markets,” said Jim Gill, acting executive director of the Allegheny County Airport Authority. “It certainly adds demand (for other flights).”

Officials anticipate the flights could draw 1,000 people a week to the airport, many of them travelers connecting to other cities.

“The … project also focuses on ongoing efforts to attract service to non-subsidized markets such as Williamsport, Scranton, and other regional cities,” said County Executive Rich Fitzgerald. “These (five) cities … help the airport with critical mass that can assist in other strategies to gain new flights.”

The regional routes are subsidized through the federal Essential Air Service program passed in 1978 as part of airline deregulation and designed to give air access to small towns.

Sun Air CEO David Hackett said the subsidy is necessary for the flights, but noted several Marcellus shale-related companies are interested in the air service to gain access to well sites across the state.

“This is going to be tremendously helpful for Marcellus shale,” Hackett said. “The economics wouldn’t work, to be able to serve these markets, without federal support and that’s why the elected officials from these communities support getting the subsidy.”

Hackett said the average one-way fare will be about $40.

Pittsburgh was a connecting airport for several smaller airports in the state until US Airways dropped the airport as a hub a decade ago. Since then, flights from smaller airports, including Jamestown and Altoona, connected through Cleveland and other airports.

The subsidy is $1.94 million for Jamestown; $2 million for Altoona; $1.94 million for Bradford, $2.5 million for Lancaster; and $1.3 million for Franklin, said federal Department of Transportation spokeswoman Caitlin Harvey.

Pittsburgh International is coming off a year in which it had fewer than 7.9 million passengers, its lowest total since 7.3 million people flew out of the former Greater Pittsburgh International Airport in 1975. Through July, passenger traffic was up 0.8 percent compared with that period last year.

Bobby Kerlik is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7886 or [email protected].


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