Airport officials to examine number of cancellations

Airport officials to examine number of cancellations

Randy Griffith
rgriffith@tribdem.com

JOHNSTOWN — With 22 flights canceled out of 104 scheduled last month, John Murtha Johnstown-Cambria County Airport leaders may cut back on their marketing campaign over the winter.

“All of us have a very difficult time defending these numbers,” Johnstown-Cambria County Airport Authority member Charles Moyer said during Tuesday’s meeting.

“Reliability is the real issue,” authority member Raymond Porsch said. “Last month, you had a 20 percent chance of getting stranded somewhere.”

MTT Aviation General Manager Bill Hunt asked how this year’s cancellations compared to last year’s severe winter. MTT is the airport’s fixed base operator, handling fuel sales, aircraft maintenance and all business matters besides passenger service.

“I think the airport is doing a better job of clearing the runways this year,” Hunt said.

Although the authority members understand the weather-related challenges at the commercial airport with the highest elevation in Pennsylvania, they said they want to know if some of the flight cancellations could have been avoided. The group asked Colgan Air officials to provide more detailed information about what led to each cancellation. Colgan, a division of Pinnacle Air, operated the United Express commuter flights at Johnstown.

Interim Manager RaNell Fenchak volunteered to review each cancellation and compare it to field and visibility condition records from the control tower.

Tower manager Dennis Fritz said he can provide those condition reports, but it wouldn’t show the pilots’ minimum visibility and stopping distance requirements. Pilots are rated by experience, Fritz said.

“For pilot ‘A,’ his minimums may be different from pilot ‘B,’ ” Fritz said.

That may be be true for some situations, but it is not true for Colgan’s pilots, said Capt. Scott Erickson, Pinnacle branch chairman for Air Line Pilots Association International. All of Pinnacle’s pilots are trained and certified to fly in conditions down to Federal Aviation Administration minimums, he said.

“If the weather is such that any pilots can get in there, our pilots can get in there,” Erickson said.

The pilots union Thursday inked its first-ever contract including Colgan Air, Erickson said. The five-year pact covers nearly 3,000 pilots in all three Pinnacle lines: Pinnacle, Colgan and Mesaba Airlines.

“By unifying with Mesaba and Colgan, we met and exceeded our goals for the contract and broke new ground in the industry,” Erickson said.

Colgan operates three flights a day connecting Johnstown and Altoona-Blair County airports with Dulles International Airport outside Washington. It receives $3,348,294 a year from the federal government under an Essential Air Service contract, which extends through June 20, 2012.

On Thursday the Senate defeated an amendment that would have eliminated the Essential Air Service program by a 61-38 vote.

“Eliminating the EAS program would have been devastating to the economies of rural communities in Pennsylvania,” Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey said.

Johnstown is one of six community airports in the state supported by about $8.8 million Essential Air Service funds last year.

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