Airport Service Proposal Denied By Federal Government
Quietly, the U.S. Transportation Department has denied a second proposal by Boutique Air Inc. to restore air service to the Chautauqua County Airport in Jamestown.
Order 2020-12-27 was quietly issued on Dec. 31, 2020, denying the Sept. 17, 2019, joint proposal by Chautauqua County and Boutique Air to restore Essential Air Service program money to the Jamestown airport. The airport has been without a commercial air carrier since December 2017, when the federal Transportation Department terminated Essential Air Service eligibility for Jamestown because the local airport wasn’t meeting the federal standard of 10 passengers a day nor the federal government’s $200 per rider subsidy cap.
In February 2019, then-County Executive George Borrello and Boutique Air filed a joint proposal to restore EAS funding. That proposal was denied by the federal government because Transportation Department officials determined Jamestown is too close to other airports to meet the passenger levels needed to meet the federal regulations. The first proposal, Transportation Department officials said, included a far too optimistic ridership projection. Federal regulators also suggested the local community pay some of the cost to lessen the federal government’s cost to an airport that has historically struggled to meet passenger requirements.
The county and Boutique Air submitted a revised proposal in September 2019 that specified weekly trips to Pittsburgh and Baltimore/Washington International International Airport and then 24 stops during less busy times of the year to Pittsburgh and Baltimore/Washington International International Airport.
Local businesses and Chautauqua County proposed $147,000 a year in cash funding and $151,000 in in-kind contributions to support the airport. The revised application was supported by the state Transportation Department, Chautauqua County Chamber of Commerce and Manufacturer’s Association of the Southern Tier, Falconer’s mayor and its village board, several businesses and educational institutions, and several private citizens. Boutique Air and county officials said Boutique Air would be able to lure more of the county’s air travelers by providing a better, more dependable service to customers.
In addition, county officials said Boutique Air remains committed to the effort of developing routes that are economically viable under the EAS program and has signaled its intention to redouble its efforts, in collaboration with local business and community leaders, to put Jamestown back on the commercial air service map.
“With our recent route expansion into Pittsburgh, Pa., Jamestown makes even more sense now for Boutique Airlines,” said Shawn Simpson, Boutique Airlines president and CEO, in an email to The Post-Journal in 2018. “Further, our partnerships with United and American Airlines give us an unprecedented level of service and convenience not seen before in Jamestown, or the southern tier of New York.”
The federal government was unswayed by the revised proposal.
According to the Transportation Department’s December order, the joint proposal’s projected 14,884 annual passengers — a level the Jamestown airport hadn’t reached since 2005 — would come from 68% use of flights in and out of Jamestown, a figure Transportation Department officials found to be unrealistic because the planes Boutique would use are roughly the same size planes and destinations as used by previous air service carriers. Federal officials said a 20% estimated load factor is more realistic.
“Even if we accept that the addition of service to BWI and certain synergies and developments identified in the joint proposal will result in some increased enplanements at Jamestown, or even that it is possible that the 10-emplanement standard will be met, based on the historical data we remain unpersuaded that the joint proposal is likely to result in the significant enplanement increase (to at least 6,260 total outbound and inbound passengers) needed to generate 10 enplanements per service day at Jamestown,” wrote David E. Short, U.S. Transportation Department deputy assistant secretary for aviation and international affairs, in the decision.