Businesses Must Support Air Service, Not Just Taxpayers

As prior commentators regarding, and former frequent passengers of, the Chautauqua County (Jamestown) airport, we continue to follow the series of articles (news and opinions) about Boutique Air and more generally both the absence of and potential return of commercial passenger air service to and from Jamestown. Our interests stem from our role as taxpayers in Chautauqua County and New York State, part-time residents of the city, and potential passengers. For various reasons, most beyond our control, we have not been able to utilize the airport for many years now. We would certainly do so again depending on many factors. Distance from Buffalo (or Erie) is NOT one of them. Cost is not the main one.

We could not agree more heartily with the most recent letter (June 21, 2019), advising against any county government investment or commitment of taxpayer money, regardless of the amount, to entice any private air carrier or to demonstrate to the decision-makers of Rural Air Services subsidies that Jamestown is ready, willing, and able to support the resumption of commercial passenger service here. We have said it several times before, but we will say it again: government CANNOT provide passengers (ridership numbers). And passenger count is what this is all about. It represents the only bottom line that will matter in a capitalistic society like ours. All the rhetoric about parking, restaurants, convenience, location, destination, reliability of service, even cost may be many of the factors that drive or reduce passenger counts, but they are not determinative of how many people can be persuaded or convinced to utilize the Jamestown airport on a regular basis.

It isn’t the cost of parking or the restaurant that accounts for the very high per/passenger subsidy that far exceeded the targeted $200/passenger, 3rd highest of all similar rural airports according to the Post Journal. It was the pathetic passenger volume (regardless of the reason).

Only private enterprise can encourage and provide ridership, but they have to be motivated to do so. Taking taxpayer money and giving it to one more airline fulfills the prophecy of philosopher George Santayana that “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” The writer asked the correct question: why will Boutique Airlines succeed here when others have failed? There is no answer, precisely because it cannot provide the one thing that government cannot provide either: passengers! It is not cost that drives ridership. If it were, then Southern at $29 one way would have succeeded wildly. It takes more than that to drive to Pittsburgh. It is not convenience that drives ridership. It is not parking that drives ridership, nor the presence or absence of a restaurant, nor any propaganda about the necessity and importance of a commercial airline service for our city and county. It is local industry and attractions offering package deals and actively “recruiting” its customer base to fly to and from Jamestown: to push their customers and patrons to access their services and offerings via the Jamestown airport. That is where ridership will come from-no place else in our current socio-economic environment.

UPMC must have a regular and continuing number of family members who would like to visit their hospitalized loved-ones who wind up in Pittsburgh for medical services unavailable here locally. Surely they could commit to 10 passengers a month and offer a low-cost attractive “package” to and from Pittsburgh, subsidizing both the airline and the families with a wonderful service at a cost that makes sense for an entity as large and expansive as UPMC. What about Chautauqua Institution? Cummins Engine (which, according to the PJ, has its own planes or air transport services)? The Roger Tory Peterson Institute? The Jackson Center? Southern Tier Brewing? Chautauqua Inn and Suites? The National Comedy Center? The new Harbor Hotel? The Allegany Seneca Casino? These are the entities which in large part do and will bring visitors (think – “passengers”) to Jamestown from outside.

Boutique Airlines is no more capable of doing this than was Southern or any other private airline. It can’t. It is not capable, no matter what it offers. Spending taxpayer money is not a game. Government subsidy of any type is assuredly not “skin.” Actually it is a shell game. No matter which air carrier is under the shell, the taxpayer loses. If the corporate and private community cannot or will not get behind a concerted and serious effort to encourage and support commercial air service for Jamestown, we should understand that successful commercial passenger air service is not in Jamestown’s future.

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