Coordinated Effort Needed To Restore Air Service

As fervent past supporters of our local airport and frequent passengers on prior Jamestown commuter flights, we respectfully disagree with parts of the analysis outlined in The Post-Journal on Feb. 17. Neither is this our first public or (the first) Post-Journal comment on Jamestown air service.

Erie is not realistic competition for Jamestown passengers. It is also small, does not have any additional passenger amenities (small limited restaurant, equally inclement weather-fog, snow), is on the opposite side of Erie from Jamestown on I-86 and offers little to nothing for “stranded” or delayed passengers to and from Jamestown that makes it in any meaningful way preferable to our local airport. In addition there is no realistic commercial shuttle service to or from Erie and its airport parking is not free. If anything in our view for local travelers in and from the Jamestown area, Erie offers us zero and in fact is “anti-competitive”. We can say from personal experience that we tried Erie when Jamestown air service became problematic for us and for many reasons we considered it a dismal second choice. We preferred to support Erie as a small community closer in actual miles to us. None of this proved worthwhile or realistic.

Buffalo by contrast is a factor, as noted by the Feb. 17 article. In fact we have become regular and frequent Buffalo airport users for many years now. It has larger planes, more services, better and more reliable schedules. However in very bad weather (regardless of whether it is in Jamestown, Buffalo, or both) transportation to the Buffalo airport is problematic at best. It’s an hour and twenty minutes from the north side of Jamestown to the Buffalo airport without weather or traffic (more when either or both of these is a problem). In addition there are Thruway tolls and parking fees. Air fares, while important, are usually not really comparable for a variety of reasons, and these days there aren’t many real bargains for Western New York air travelers.

A “hub city” to and from Jamestown is important and, equally or more important, is meshing schedules, code-sharing with a legacy carrier, and transfer of baggage, once at the hub city. Southern Airways offered none of this. Additionally we made two or three calls personally to both the CEO and marketing director for Southern while they were still servicing Jamestown to offer some suggestions and provide input. We never had so much as the courtesy of a return call from anyone. We actually wanted to support them. In our opinion they didn’t deserve it. We wasted our time. We won’t do it again.

Pittsburgh is probably the best fit for a hub city. It’s the home of UPMC and it’s a driveable distance to Jamestown most of the time if the air commuter service is “down” or unusable.

So what does Jamestown need to do to restore commercial air service to the Chautauqua County Airport? The same thing we have said repeatedly: combine forces with the local attractions to provide package deals for airfare-National Comedy Center, Allegany Casino, large employers, UPMC at WCA/Jamestown, Chautauqua Institution, etc. From among these various places will come renewed ridership. Low fares (how much lower can you go than $29/trip?) or some mystical destination hub city will not do this any longer (if it ever could — and experience over the last decade has shown it can’t).

Without renewed ridership numbers, no hub, no specific carrier, and no re-application with unrealistic numbers, projections, or plans is likely to succeed. Without community “partners” to “subsidize”, promote, advertise, and actively support commercial air service to our community, no government or public intervention, no “lip service”, no re-application or re-packaging of old or previously unsuccessful ideas is viable.

Vanne and Fred Cohen are residents of Jamestown and Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.