Reed Critical After Southern Airways Vacates City Airport

U.S. Rep. Tom Reed and County Executive George Borrello want to see commercial air service return to the Chautauqua County Airport in Jamestown — though it likely won’t be Southern Airways Express.

The sole provider of air service at the airport was halted Tuesday after federal subsidies were terminated due to the lack of passengers. Southern Airways removed its presence at the 3163 Airport Dr. location, about two weeks after the U.S. Department of Transportation announced it was terminating funding for its Essential Air Service program.

Southern Airways was receiving about $2.1 million annually in subsidies to provide flights from Jamestown to Pittsburgh, Pa.

In a conference call with reporters, Reed said air service will likely return to the airport but was also highly critical of the subsidies Southern Airways received to provide air service in Jamestown.

“To me this may be a short-term, painful headline with the removal of Southern Airways from the airport,” said Reed, R-Corning. “We may have had a company that, in my humble opinion, was milking the taxpayers for $2.1 million.”

The Southern Airways ticket counter pictured last year.

Reed said Southern Airways didn’t “walk the walk” after they were held accountable by local and federal officials to make the service better and increase its number of passengers.

“To me, they’re probably not the best partner going forward,” he said. “We really wanted to see commercial airline development at the airport. I’m very confident with the leadership of (County Executive) George Borrello and the managers of the airport that … we can get a carrier there that will be able to get the passenger census up.”

County officials were notified late last year that the federal subsidies would end because not enough passengers were flying Southern Airways to maintain the air service program. Southern Airways said they were working to improve services at the time of the termination notice.

Borrello said the county is pursuing other avenues of reinstating commercial air service to the airport. Borrello pointed out that the airport is not closed, and general aviation use is still available at the airport.

While the absence of a commercial airline is a temporary blow, Borrello said there are opportunities to improve service.

“We believe there are other airlines out there that we can speak with,” he said. “We aren’t done yet. We’re going to push hard to get commercial air service back at the Jamestown airport.”

The commuter airline with headquarters in Memphis, Tenn., said bookings increased by 50 percent between October and November. Flights also had been running reliably after pilot shortages previously canceled flights.

The county said it will explore all options to maintain a commercial air carrier at the airport. A waiver that would have kept airport funding was sent to the DOT last year. Airport officials were hoping the termination of subsidies would be overturned when they were notified of the decision.

The EAS program, which requires 10 passengers a day, began after the deregulation of the airline industry in 1978. The program helps subsidize flights to smaller markets that airlines would not serve otherwise.