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Wood County airport could lose federal subsidy

WILLIAMSTOWN, W.Va. — The Mid-Ohio Valley Regional Airport could lose the federal funding that supports its commercial air service when the U.S. Department of Transportation starts enforcing a 15-year-old rule next year.

A law passed in 2000 prohibits the DOT from subsidizing Essential Air Service to communities at a rate of more than $200 per passenger if the airport is within 210 miles of a large or medium hub airport. The Mid-Ohio Valley Regional Airport is within that distance from Port Columbus International Airport, and its EAS subsidy currently works out to $386 a passenger.

Airport manager Jeff McDougle attributes that to the unreliable service provided by Florida-based Silver Airways under the EAS subsidy.

“We’re year over year almost 1,000 (passengers) down,” he said.

The service has been plagued by multiple cancellations and delays since its destination shifted from Cleveland Hopkins International Airport to Washington Dulles International Airport in October 2014. Enplanements have decreased, with a total of 3,106 year to date, 990 less than the same period last year, McDougle said.

When the amount of subsidy paid is divided by the number of passengers, the result is well over the $200 cap the DOT has previously not enforced.

“They will enforce that next year, and if you don’t object to that, you can lose your EAS subsidy permanently,” McDougle said. “We wouldn’t have commercial air service.”

Airports in Clarksburg and Morgantown, also served by Silver, are facing the same problem due in part to their proximity to Pittsburgh.

According to a DOT memo, compliance with the cap will be based on data from Oct. 1, 2014, to Sept. 30, 2015, but show-cause orders for airports that don’t meet the standard won’t be issued until next year. Airports can apply for a waiver, which can be granted “for a limited period of time, on a case-by-case basis, and subject to the availability of funds,” the memo says.

McDougle is optimistic a waiver will be granted for the local airport because of the issues with Silver. It’s something he brought up during a Sept. 17 meeting in Washington, D.C., with the DOT and managers of other affected airports.

“They understood our argument, let’s put it that way, of the lack of quality service from Silver causing the passenger numbers to fall off,” McDougle said.

Silver is contracted as the airport’s EAS provider through September 2016, something that was also brought up at the meeting.

“We’ve got a year left in the contract, and we discussed other airlines that are out there,” McDougle said. Changing providers early “was an option discussed, but at this point, no action’s taken.”

A message to Silver was not returned Tuesday afternoon.

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