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Put County Airport At Jamestown Back On The Map

January 16, 2018, was a sad day for the Greater Jamestown Area. It was on that date that the County Airport at Jamestown was the only airport in America to lose the Federal Essential Air Service (EAS) that year, ending decades of passenger air service at the Jamestown Airport.

For those of us who flew out of the airport in the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, 1990, 2000s through 2017, the loss of air service signaled that our once important Greater Jamestown Area economy was so devastated that there was no reason for passenger air service here anymore.

Anyone who says it is no big deal to drive 70 miles or so to the Buffalo Airport (or 90 miles from Warren) ignore lake effect snow storms that either close the Thruway or make it treacherous to try to get to the Buffalo Airport.

Recently, I had reason to Google when a certain performer had been at Chautauqua. The Google search turned up a wonderful June 28, 1983, article in the Christian Science Monitor about what a great place Chautauqua is. The article ended “The nearest airport is in Jamestown, which is served by US Air.”

In the summer of 2023, no one who wants to visit Chautauqua will be able to fly into Jamestown. No one interested in visiting the National Comedy Center can fly into Jamestown.

In 2017, when the federal government threatened about 30 cities with an end to EAS status, apparently our congressman, Tom Reed of Corning, was the only one in the Congress to say the federal EAS for passenger service for Jamestown, the largest city in his district, was a waste of Federal money, so good riddance. Our Congressman and our County Executive at the time, George Borrello, said the commuter airline had provided Jamestown with bad service. So instead of fixing the bad service our own representatives saddled the largest city in the congressional district with no air service.

The federal Essential Air Service subsidy to Jamestown was never a “waste of money”. When airline service in America was deregulated under President Carter in 1978, the airlines were suddenly free to stop serving any community they wished. As a solemn promise by the federal government as part of airline deregulation, airports like Jamestown or Bradford or Dubois that the major airlines abandoned, would maintain some passenger service through the Essential Air Service subsidy. EAS was a central component of airline deregulation, not a federal government giveaway.

The commuter airline unceremoniously kicked out of Jamestown before its EAS contract was even up, Southern Airways, still faithfully serves Bradford in McKean County to this day. As they say, “you can look it up.”

For $59 you can fly on Southern Airways Express from Bradford to Pittsburgh at 7:20 a.m. or 4:30 p.m. Pittsburgh has a significant American Airlines presence.

For $69 you can fly from Bradford to Dulles Airport at 10:05 a.m. or 2:40 p.m. Dulles is a major United Airlines hub.

Another complaint local elected officials had with Southern Airways in 2017 was that it had no “interline agreements” with American Airlines or United Airlines. Interline agreements would have allowed baggage being checked in Jamestown to be transferred directly to your connecting flight. Now Southern Airways has those interline agreements.

Like Bradford, the Chautauqua County Airport at Jamestown could have two flights a day to Pittsburgh and two flights a day to Washington, D.C., and our luggage would be transferred directly onto our American, United Airlines or Alaska Airline connecting flight.

The airline our elected officials were so critical of as it left us, is now one of the largest commuter airlines in America, serving 39 cities. In addition Southern Airways, since being thrown out of Jamestown, is one of the most reliable and on-time airlines in America. In 2020, Southern’s controllable completion rate was 99.54% of all scheduled flights – among the top in the industry (per the Dubois Courier Express. Dubois, Pa., has three Southern Airlines flights a day to Pittsburgh and two flights a day to Washington. DuBois, like Jamestown, was on the 2017 list to lose EAS but, unlike Jamestown, it got a “waiver” and has retained excellent air service to this date).

Imagine if our college kids could fly home to the Chautauqua County Airport/Jamestown for Christmas, instead of into Buffalo during a lake effect snow storm. Imagine if visitors to Chautauqua Institution could fly into Jamestown, a mere 18 minutes from the front gate at Chautauqua. Imagine the potential impact on attendance at the National Comedy Center if the over 6,000,000 residents of Metro Washington could fly non-stop from Washington to Jamestown for $69 (less than the cost of a tank of gas).

We need passenger air service restored to make our county airport an economic development asset. We need every economic development asset possible to reverse the county’s population and job losses.

It is time for our elected leaders to do the hard work of getting Essential Air Service restored at the Chautauqua County Airport at Jamestown, and get the Greater Jamestown Area back on the nation’s air map.

Fred Larson served on the Chautauqua County Legislature from 1985-93 and in 2014, served as Chautauqua County Attorney from 1998-2005 and was a member of the County Airport Commission in 2014.

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