Boutique Air SkyWest planes

Airplanes from Boutique Air (left) and SkyWest Airlines were on display at John Murtha Johnstown-Cambria County Airport on Thursday, July 30, 2020, as both carriers were bidding to offer flights under the Essential Air Service program.

Airport leaders got a first-hand look Thursday at the size difference between two types of aircraft proposed to serve the John Murtha Johnstown-Cambria County Airport.

Originally, all four airlines that submitted proposals to serve Johnstown agreed to bring an aircraft Thursday before making their public pitches, airport authority Chairman James Loncella said at the airport.

Three of the airlines later canceled the aircraft viewing and one chose not to make the public pitch, Loncella said.

Only Utah-based SkyWest Airlines’ 30-passenger Bombardier CRJ-200 regional jet aircraft was officially on display Thursday. But a scheduled flight by the current airline, Boutique Air of San Francisco, served as a reminder of how the eight-seat executive-style turboprop Pilatus PC-12 aircraft compares in size.

SkyWest, Boutique, Florida-based Southern Air Express and Massachusetts-based Cape Air are vying for the airport authority’s endorsement for the federal Department of Transportation’s subsidy to offer flights from Johnstown under the Essential Air Service program.

Executives from SkyWest, Boutique and Southern outlined proposals and options for the authority board Thursday.

SkyWest’s Greg Atkin, managing director for market development, and Dan Belmont, manager of network planning, pointed out the last time Johnstown exceeded 12,000 enplanements a year was in 2010 and 2011 when Colgan Air operated United Air Express flights from the local airport on a 30-passenger aircraft.

SkyWest proposes to operate as United Air Express, offering one daily round-trip each to Chicago O’Hare International Airport and Dulles International Airport outside Washington.

Both are United hubs, with direct connections to more than 230 destinations, Atkin said.

Boutique CEO Shawn Simpson said the United hub at Dulles has been downsized by the COVID-19 situation and argued that a more flexible schedule and connections will continue to better serve Johnstown.

During Boutique’s presentation, about a dozen of the current employees lined the board room as a reminder of the airline’s commitment to the region. Boutique opened a maintenance facility at Johnstown and has hired 12 maintenance workers since March. There are openings for five more employees, maintenance manager Daniel Lose said.

“This is one of the most exciting things we are doing here, in addition to the air service,” Simpson said. “Jobs are a big deal here in Johnstown.

“We like to be part of that. We’d like to be part of helping Johnstown be a better place.”

Boutique currently operates 35 flights a week to and from Pittsburgh International Airport and Baltimore-Washington International as low as $29 and $49, respectively. Only 30 of the flights are subsidized.

The airline proposes to continue the service but is including an option to include flights to New York City.

“New York is a universally worldwide destination,” Simpson said, pledging to work with local leaders and businesses to find the best air service destinations.

Mark Cestari, chief commercial officer for Southern Air Express, was making a return visit to the airport authority board room. Southern served the Johnstown airport for two years before losing the EAS contract in 2018. The authority recommended against Southern at the time because of unreliable service.

Cestari acknowledged the strained relationship Thursday in his opening statement.

“I feel like I am back here dating my ex-wife,” he quipped.

Southern has expanded its business profile, introduced new aircraft and beefed up its pool of qualified pilots since leaving Johnstown, Cestari said.

Its cooperative agreement, or code-share program, with American Airlines provides additional benefits. The agreement and the shrinking number of flights at Pittsburgh International Airport make Southern’s proposal to connect Johnstown with Philadelphia a viable option, Cestari said.

Southern’s proposals also include flights to Washington.

Cape Air chose not to attend the presentation meeting. It has proposed 30 combined flights a week to and from Johnstown’s current destinations – Pittsburgh and Baltimore-Washington international airports.

Loncella said the airport authority’s airline committee will meet to discuss the proposals before making a recommendation to the full board at a special meeting on Wednesday. The board will make its recommendation to the Department of Transportation following the meeting.

Loncella noted that, while the board’s recommendation plays an important role, the final decision will come from the federal officials. 

Randy Griffith is a multimedia reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at 532-5057. Follow him on Twitter @PhotoGriffer57.

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