By ANDREW SCHOTZ
8:35 PM EDT, August 9, 2011
Direct Air is ending its service out of Hagerstown Regional Airport on Aug. 21, but might come back next year, the company announced Tuesday.
Direct Air started flying twice a week from Hagerstown to Myrtle Beach, S.C., and Lakeland, Fla., on June 23.
Direct Air's imminent departure will leave Cape Air as the only local carrier. Cape Air flies between Hagerstown and Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport
Ed Warneck, a managing partner for Direct Air, said the airline decided that Hagerstown could be a good "seasonal market" and hopes to resume service next spring.
"Sales were soft," he said. "They're good, but they're not where we need them to be."
He said all customers who purchased tickets will be contacted this week for full refunds.
Airport Manager Phil Ridenour said local officials were disappointed when they heard the news Tuesday.
"It was working for us," he said.
Ridenour and Warneck said they look forward to having more talks in the coming months about possibly resuming Direct Air's local service in the spring.
Often, sales in a geographic market go up 20 to 25 percent in the second year, after an airline gets a foothold, Warneck said.
The percentage of seats used on flights, or load factor, ranged from 70 to 85 percent in Hagerstown, he said.
Direct Air "could live with those," Warneck said, but the uncertainty of the economy and the coming winter months pointed toward shutting down in Hagerstown.
"The economy's killing everybody," Ridenour agreed, noting that other airlines have been halting flights.
Direct Air has been using MD-80 aircraft, with 139 seats per flight, at the Hagerstown airport.
Ridenour said the load factor sometimes reached the upper 80s.
"We were pretty happy with those numbers," he said.
"We agonized for two, three weeks" about the decision, Warneck said, apologizing for the inconvenience to customers.
Former Waynesboro, Pa., resident Doris Mowen, now living in Myrtle Beach, said Direct Air's sudden decision created immediate problems for her family.
Her grandson, Bob Mowen of Waynesboro, is getting married to Brigitte Broadwater on Aug. 27 in Myrtle Beach, where Direct Air is based.
Doris Mowen said eight people going to the wedding purchased tickets for an Aug. 25 Direct Air flight to Myrtle Beach, which has been canceled. Five others were trying to buy tickets to get to the wedding.
The bride's father, who is part of the traveling group, found out about the canceled flight Tuesday.
Direct Air's decision marks another interruption in service at Hagerstown.
Allegiant Air, which flew to Orlando, Fla., and back, offered service locally from November 2008 until July 2010.
Some carriers have served Hagerstown through the federal Essential Air Service program, a subsidy for airports that are far from metropolitan areas.
Hagerstown has been part of the program since its inception in 1978.
EAS funding was at the center of a recent congressional tussle that resulted in a temporary shutdown of the Federal Aviation Administration.
The final agreement technically eliminates EAS, but includes a provision that lets U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood continue the program.
Cape Air is getting $1.2 million this year through the EAS program. Its contract expires at the end of September.
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