Time For County Flight Services To Call It Quits

Sluggish passenger numbers have put the latest airline to occupy the Chautauqua County Airport in Jamestown on the chopping block.

No one should be surprised that Southern Airways Express isn’t meeting the federal government’s 10 passenger a day minimum to receive Essential Air Service subsidies. The flights are cheap, but there have been a never-ending string of complaints from the outset of Southern Airways Express’ beleaguered time in Chautauqua County. Despite being promised the moon when Southern Airways took over, the newest air service provider to Chautauqua County has been, as County Executive George Borrello put it last week, little more than an “unreliable taxi service to Pittsburgh.”

How many times do we have to hear this? Why do we keep banging our heads against the wall?

The short answer to our question is because federal grants make it impossible financially to close the airport. Each successful grant application for the airport pushes the window where it is feasible to close the airport further and further into the future. That means the county has little choice but to press through the muck with an airport hardly anyone uses, a service virtually no one is happy with and with new providers every few years. Mark Cestari, Southern Airways Express chief commercial officer, told member of the county’s Airports Commission that passenger bookings increased 50 percent between October and November and that flights have been running reliably now that a pilot shortage has been resolved. Early morning departures and late-night returns can also be scheduled now and that a partnership with a major airline is pending.

County executives, mayors, legislators and federal representatives keep telling us how important passenger service at the Jamestown airport is to Chautauqua County. We just don’t see it. If the service isn’t sustainable with $2.1 million in federal money, just let it end.