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Business Support Needed To Bring Back Air Service

Sadly, it has been four years since Jamestown was served by a commercial passenger air carrier. Before that time, based on more considerations than we could describe and/or explain here, we had moved on to regular use of the Buffalo airport. We have become comfortable doing so, even during winter weather alerts when we leave the evening before and stay at a motel nearby. But comfort in doing something that just seems somehow to not fit always leaves us uneasy, and it leaves us longing for the uncountable number of times when all we had to do was get dressed, drive 10 minutes up airport road, park with no difficulty at no charge, walk across to the terminal, and leave, knowing that the process would be the same in reverse on our return.

We have written The Post-Journal several times over the years with our own personal view of why commercial air passenger service to and from Jamestown has not been able to succeed, despite government subsidies and despite some remarkably inexpensive air fares (at one time as low as $29 each way). To no surprise, the last Essential Air Service subsidy application was denied by the U.S. Transportation Department in late December of last year. (Post-Journal, April 23, 2021) While that application at least attempted to rectify what we see as the real problem with any of Jamestown’s applications to restore this subsidy and service, it did not go far enough. What Jamestown lacks is passengers. It’s not lacking a nice airport. It’s not lacking parking. It’s not lacking convenience for many western New Yorkers.

No amount of government “lip service” or commitment is going to address the absence of passengers who will travel to and from Jamestown by local air service. What is still needed is a financial commitment from local business to also subsidize this effort. Businesses can supply passengers. Government cannot. Without passengers to fill the planes, no proposal can or will succeed. There will be many excuses: the weather is bad; the service is not reliable; the planes are too small; the connections are not good. While there is merit in all of these, none of them gets to the heart of the issue. “Tokenism” has not, cannot, and will not bring commercial passenger air service back to Jamestown. To the contrary, in the continued absence of a healthy and thriving passenger air service, the city of Jamestown and nearby communities will continue to be the poorer overall.

“Corporate” Jamestown and Chautauqua County needs to demonstrate to the U.S. Transportation Department that it is willing to commit to providing passengers to fill the planes. No government subsidy can do that. “In-kind services” are not passengers. Taxpayer money is not passengers. Lip service is not passengers. Rosy projections are not passengers. Flowery language and catch phrases are not passengers.

How can business produce passengers? Have each business guarantee the U.S. Transportation Department and Essential Air Services $75,000 per year to the application process. 6 businesses means almost a half million corporate dollars bet that not only will the service succeed, but that those businesses will be partners in figuring out how to make it succeed and incentivize its customers and employees to become passengers

As an example, UPMC, the former WCA, has its flagship hospital in Pittsburgh. Some of its Jamestown patient population must be in need of services that can either only or best be supplied in Pittsburgh. Local families and friends will want to visit. In a “win-win” partnership that also radiates good-will, UPMC could offer “patient visitation packages” that provide “shuttle” service to and from Pittsburgh and provide ground transportation for them between the Pittsburgh airport and the downtown hospital. The Seneca Nation and Salamanca Casino could include air transportation and shuttle service to and from Jamestown as part of various “vacation packages” So could the National Comedy Center. Government’s role might be to link a series of “packages” with corporate sponsors throughout the year, all utilizing the added value of plane service in and out. This is the type of thinking that will produce passengers. Unrealistic projections or even low fares haven’t, can’t and won’t. If our community corporations, natural and commercial attractions can’t financially underwrite this, we don’t see commercial passenger air service returning to Jamestown in the foreseeable future.

Vanne and Fred Cohen are residents of Jamestown and Jupiter, Fla.

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