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Civic Leaders, Business Owners Advocate For County Airport

Members of the public are making their thoughts known to the federal government regarding the future of air service at the Chautauqua County Airport in Jamestown.

Only one member of the public commented on a proposal from Chautauqua County officials and Boutique Air to restore air service to the airport. After the federal government denied the county’s last Essential Air Service application, County Executive George Borrello, U.S. Rep. Tom Reed, R-Corning, and other local officials embarked on a spring and summer project to see if there is local support for the airport. The proposal states that the National Comedy Center and Seneca Nation casinos require air carrier routes that bring more visitors to the area while industries including Cummins Inc., Truck Lite, Wells Enterprises and Athenex require robust and efficient connections to major hub airports and national carriers. Meetings with civic leaders and business owners led the county to launch a commercial air service sponsorship program. Municipal partners will make $12,000 of in-kind contributions, the business community has committed $75,000 in cash and $87,000 of in-kind contributions and the county, as the airport sponsor, has committed $72,000 cash and $52,000 of in-kind contributions. The $298,000 total contribution represents 10% of the airport’s proposed operating subsidy and comes with a three-year commitment.

Since the latest joint proposal from County Executive George Borrello and Shawn Simpson, CEO of Boutique Air, was submitted in mid-September, 15 comments have been received by the federal government.

Among them are County Legislator Mark Odell, who wrote to Kevin Schlemmer, chief of the U.S. Transportation Department’s Essential Air Service Division, that the application received in September is much different than previous applications to restore federal funding to the Jamestown airport.

“The private sector stakeholders from both the business and institutional sectors were surveyed, interviewed and jointly convened on multiple occasions to gather consensus on what attributes included in this proposal would best fit their needs,” Odell wrote.

“They too have agreed to significant cash and in-kind services (in the amounts of $75,000 and $87,000, respectively) to support this application. I firmly believe that the process of developing this re-tooled application by deeply engaging the citizens, my colleagues, and the private-sector stakeholders allowed us to develop this strong and uniquely compelling proposal and again request that Essential Air Service be restored.”

A letter has also been sent by Gerardo Mendoza, state Aviation Bureau director, and Assemblyman Andrew Goodell. Private citizens have also sent letters, including William Neches, a Kensington, Md., resident who spends summers at Chautauqua Institution.

But perhaps the most compelling case for restoring air service comes from Kurt Grimm, president and CEO of Premier Precision Machining and Rand Machine Products in Falconer. Grimm wrote that he and his partners purchased Rand Machine two years ago and have created more than 50 new jobs at the Falconer plant.

“The lack of air service to the area is a major detriment to both myself, our employees, our vendors and our customers,” Grimm wrote. “The proposed service of Boutique Air would provide much-needed air travel support to the region that would be used for both business and pleasure. The continued economic rehabilitation of this region is in no small part dependent on the future of its transportation infrastructure. In the 21st century, travel by air cannot be missing.”

Boutique Air is proposing 30 nonstop flights a week during the busier spring and summer season, 18 a week to Pittsburgh and 12 to Baltimore-Washington. During the slower fall and winter seasons, flights will decrease to 24 a week, 12 each to Pittsburgh and Baltimore-Washington. The intended flight schedule is designed to deliver passengers between the two destinations at intervals that will promote consistently high load factors, and within timeframes that permit timely connections to end destinations from the objective hub airports. The new plan recognizes there will be more airport use in the summer than in the winter.

Adding Baltimore-Washington to the mix of flights changes the financing drastically from the 2018 proposal. Boutique Air is now proposing an additional 611 completed flights and 2,320 additional passengers a year. The average fare has increased from $35 to $75, though expenses are increasing $1,108,416 a year. Boutique Air is asking for federal subsidies of $2,980,608 in the first year and $3,070,027 in the second year. The 2018 proposal requested subsidies of $2,500,484 and $2,562,996, respectively. Even with the county and local businesses picking up 10 percent of the subsidy cost, the new plan would barely meet the Essential Air Service Program’s $200 rule, which mandates subsidies per rider don’t exceed $200. The first year subsidy under the new application would be $200.26 per rider compared to $199.02 in the 2018 proposal.

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