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Charlotte air service and Williamsport

Beginning Aug. 18, American Airlines will discontinue service to its Philadelphia hub and begin connecting service to Charlotte, North Carolina (CLT) from the Williamsport Regional Airport (IPT). The carrier will upgrade the aircraft serving the airport to its dual-class 65-seat, Canadair CRJ-700 regional jet. This means the aircraft has nine business-class seats available to our travelers. As stories have been released, posts put up, and comments and letters have circulated, we noticed misconceptions about how air service works and impacts to Williamsport in specific. We are hoping to dispel some confusion about the new service.

There are no American Airlines performance requirements for the service. In announcing the change to the airport authority, American’s only caveat was it (the airline) was committed to the success of the new CLT service. To clear the air:

• The service is being initiated entirely at American’s own risk,

• The service is being offered because the airline believes our service will be more profitable through the CLT hub because of the increased frequencies and connectivity to destinations we travel to,

• The community is not required to put in any money as a revenue guarantee,

• The community is not required to market the service,

• There is no test period when the carrier will rethink the service,

• There is not a minimum number of passengers the carrier expects the community to generate.

Regarding the 66,000-passenger number that has appeared in the media, as the authority’s executive director, I felt it was important to determine how the market needed to perform to ensure continued service. The 66,000 number was created by our air service consultant and I and is simply a measuring stick for the authority and the community to monitor the service profitability. The airline was not asked and had no input to the number.

This change has many benefits to our customers:

• CLT has over 700 American departures. That translates to more one-stop connections available to our customers.

• The airline has indicated they will run at least two daily flights year-round. We understand this would include two on Saturdays as well.

• The weather issues that impact the Philadelphia hub don’t occur in CLT. Does CLT have bad weather? Sure, but we anticipate the impacts to travel for IPT will be much less. One benefit to us is as bad weather develops at an airport; air traffic control will frequently issue what is called a ground stop for inbound traffic. This will hold inbound aircraft at their departing airports to control the flow to the weather-impacted airport. Ground stops will generally affect airports closest to the weather location first. IPT’s distance of 112 miles to Philadelphia means that every ground stop issued at Philadelphia delays our flight, and many of our travelers have experienced this. CLT is 400 miles away, in this we would expect minimal impact to our departing aircraft. Also, CLT only gets 2 inches of snow a year!

• The CRJ700 is a larger, newer and more sophisticated aircraft than the Embraer jet servicing our market now. This jet also has business-class seating available, a first for our market. We feel this will improve the travel experience for our customers while at the same time improving our completion rate of flights.

We have frequently seen such questions as “why should I fly south to go (wherever)”. The bottom line is for most flights there will be very little, if any, added flight time. For areas that are clearly impacted (Northeast and western United States, Europe, etc.) the distance from Philadelphia to Charlotte is 350 miles, any added time would probably be less than 45 minutes to an hour. Also, if you’re using IPT instead of one of the other airports in the state (Harrisburg, University Park, Wilkes-Barre) you cut out your drive time from home to those facilities.

We feel this service package will offer timely, efficient and usable service for all. We hope that customers in our area will check on Williamsport again when they travel. Tickets are on sale at www.aa.com or 800-433-7300. See you at the airport!

Richard Howell is executive director of the Williamsport Regional Airport.

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