Chautauqua County-Jamestown Airport is on the brink of losing its main carrier.
Silver Airways said that it plans to stop flying out of Jamestown and four other regional airports by mid-May, blaming low passenger levels and rising expenses caused by new federal rules on pilot training and rest requirements in the wake of the crash of Continental Connection Flight 3407 that killed 50 people five years ago in Clarence Center.
The airline, which operates five daily flights to Cleveland and Bradford, Pa., also said the decision was influenced by United Airlines’ announcement earlier this month that it would reduce the number of its own flights out of Cleveland.
The news sent Chautauqua County officials scrambling to find a new airline to serve the Jamestown airport.
“The announcement came as a surprise and relatively short notice,” Chautauqua County Executive Vincent W. Horrigan said Tuesday. “Once we heard it, we’ve been on the phone, trying to find a new carrier.”
Horrigan and other county officials have contacted the office of Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., to explore all options in identifying a new carrier for Jamestown and have the U.S. Department of Transportation submit a request for proposals for a new carrier to bid on airline service for Jamestown.
The Jamestown airport has about 10 passengers a day, Horrigan said, and is also served by Wiggins Airways, which operates a daily flight to Buffalo. But the majority of its flights are operated by Silver. Without a replacement service, Horrigan said residents would have to drive to Buffalo Niagara International Airport for airline service.
“This service is very important to the county, city and our economic development,” Horrigan said. “We want to make sure we do everything we can to keep passenger service in Jamestown.”
Silver Airways, which is contracted by United Airlines to operate flights in Jamestown, has been flying out of the Jamestown airport for two years. It will discontinue service by May 15. It also will stop flying out of three Pennsylvania locations – Bradford, DuBois and Franklin – and Parkersburg, W. Va.
Silver Airways President and CEO David H. Pflieger Jr. said revised regulations that regional airlines are facing were among the reasons for terminating its service.
“New federal regulations related to air transport pilot certification, as well as new flight and duty limitations and rest requirements have had the unintended effect of creating a nationwide pilot shortage and significantly increasing operating costs,” he said.
The airport also has been trying to maintain its status of having at least 10 passengers on flights each day from the airport to be able to receive federal funding as an Essential Airline Service.
Those low passenger counts also worked against the Jamestown airport as Silver moved ahead with plans to switch from 19-seat Beechcraft 1900D aircraft to 34-seat Saab 340B aircraft, which are both more advanced and more economical to operate, Pflieger said.
The airport was in a similar situation not long ago, Horrigan said. Prior to Silver, Colgan Airlines operated the bulk of flights out of Jamestown. When its contract expired, Silver won the bid the provide service.
“We’re optimistic that we’ll be able to somehow find a carrier to take care of our passengers,” he said. “It’s an extensive drive to the Buffalo airport, and it doesn’t serve the need like scheduled airline service does.”