New lines have been painted on the John Murtha Johnstown-Cambria County Airport tarmac, and communications networks are in place to prepare for a smooth takeoff by SkyWest Airlines on Dec. 3.
“We want a seamless transition,” airport manager Chad Gontkovic said after Tuesday’s airport authority meeting.
SkyWest in September was awarded the federally subsidized contract to serve Johnstown, replacing Boutique Air.
While Boutique operates several daily flights to Pittsburgh and Baltimore-Washington international airports, SkyWest will have one flight each to Chicago O’Hare International Airport and Washington Dulles International Airport. The flights will operate as United Air Express, with 50-passenger, twin-jet aircraft.
Not only will the planes be changing, so will the faces behind the Johnstown ticket counter.
Although all three current Boutique employees were offered positions with SkyWest, authority member David Kalina said they are only part-time positions. Boutique required full-time staff.
“I want to express my disappointment,” Kalina said. “I understand it. Sometimes that’s the way things happen but it’s very disappointing.”
Boutique station manager Sharon Richardson has been at the airport through at least three airline changes, and others have similar tenures, Kalina noted.
With the troubled reliability records of recent operators, the local staff did a remarkable job in customer service, he said.
“In a non-COVID environment, I’d suggest having a get-together with them,” Kalina said.
During the selection process, several members of the board supported retaining Boutique, in part, because the airline has established a maintenance facility on the Johnstown airfield. Board members were concerned that the airline would move the facility to another airport when it is no longer operating flights out of Johnstown, taking more than a dozen jobs.
On a positive note, authority Chairman James Loncella said advance bookings for SkyWest’s first month suggest ticket sales are on the rise.
“Based on the bookings we’ve been seeing for December, it’s going to be a busy flying month,” Loncella said.
Bookings are not enplanements, Loncella warned, noting that COVID-19 travel guidance could create challenges for the new operation.
The new airline and global pandemic are also creating challenges for budget preparations, Loncella said.
“We could have increasing revenue and costs, or we could have decreasing revenues and costs,” he said. “We don’t have a predictable budget model. It’s going to be more difficult to be as accurate as we have been in the past.”
Despite the uncertainty, Loncella said the authority at its December meeting will have a final budget ready to submit to Cambria County commissioners.