JAMESTOWN – Commercial passenger air service is no longer available at the Chautauqua County Airport in Jamestown.
Southern Airways Express, the sole provider of air service at the airport, halted service on Tuesday after federal subsidies were terminated due to the lack of passengers.
The moves comes two weeks after the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) announced it would terminating funding for the airport through the federal Essential Air Service (EAS) program – which subsidizes the cost of passenger air service in rural areas that are unable to pay for the entire cost locally.
Southern Airways was receiving about $2.1 million annually in subsidies to provide flights from Jamestown to Pittsburgh and, according to County Executive George Borrello, the funding should have continued through the second half of this year.
“This EAS funding was supposed to be in place until September 30 of this year. I was hoping to have that time, especially over the summer tourism period, to prove that we can do this and they kind of pulled the rug out from under us,” Borrello told WRFA during a recent Community Matters interview.
Congressman Tom Reed was also asked to address the situation on Tuesday during a conference call with regional media.
“Commercial airline service in Chautauqua County is not done,” Reed said. “To me, this may be a short-term, painful headline, with the removal of Southern Airways from the airport there, but I think what we did, is we may have had a company that – in my humble opinion – was milking the taxpayers for $2.1 million. They were challenged by guys like us, to say no more talking the talk, you’ve got to walk the walk and show us how you’re going to improve the passenger census at the airport.”
Congressman Reed also said that he’s hopeful passenger service will return in the near future.
“I’m very confident working with the leadership of George Borrello and the managers of the airport that we can get a carrier there who will be able to get the passenger census up and that $2.1 million of federal tax payer dollars that Southern Airways took and pocketed with a passenger census of 1.7 people a day, to me, we can do much better with the tax payers’ dollars than that. So we’re looking for partners and I’m sure we’re going to be able to identify them,” Reed said.
Late last year the DOT notified the County that the EAS subsidies would end because not enough passengers were flying Southern Airways to maintain the air service program. The EAS program requires 10 passengers a day. It’s been in place since 1978.