Cumberland Times-News

May 20, 2013

Airport commuter service not feasible, FSU student concludes

Despite positive survey results, area’s economic, population constraints likely couldn’t support it

From Staff Reports
Cumberland Times-News

— FROSTBURG — A Frostburg State University student who undertook a survey about the feasibility of commuter service at the Greater Cumberland Regional Airport said he does not believe the findings are favorable for the service at this time.

Christopher Cropper, an FSU junior majoring in geography and political science, prepared an online survey that was posted on the Times-News website as part of the project.

While an overwhelming majority of the 160 survey respondents — 144 — said they would use the service, Cropper said his findings on economic and population constraints led him to the conclusion the service is currently not feasible.

“Other factors such as airline operating costs, distance from competition airports and runway constraints (short runway and fog) all made it to be not feasible at the current moment,” Cropper said. “There is a possibility in the future a regional airline could fly out of Cumberland Regional Airport if some factors would positively change. Social-economic standards for Allegany County simply are not capable of supporting scheduled air service, ranging from population influxes to a mediocre median household income.

“There are other possibilities that could be looked into to substitute commercial airline service, (including) but not limited to, on-demand charters or air taxes,” Cropper said.

He said for a commercial airline to be successful the airport would have to apply for federal grants or state grants from Maryland and West Virginia. Previous airline services that operated at the airport received government subsidies for their operations.

Cropper also noted that the federal government’s recent sequester is having a negative impact on air service throughout the nation.

As for competition, he noted that there are three other airports — Morgantown, Johnstown and Hagerstown — within 100 miles of each other. Because of this, “most carriers will not stop (in Cumberland) due to the close proximity and the amount of time needed to load and unload at the Cumberland Regional Airport. It becomes more costly to the airlines and more of a time burden to passengers,” he said.

The airport survey asked five questions. Following are the questions and responses:

1) If commercial airline service were available at the Cumberland airport, would you use it? Yes — 144, No — 16.

2) What destination would you like to fly to from the Cumberland airport? Baltimore — 95; Dulles — 26; Washington National‚ 9; Pittsburgh — 23.

3) How many times a year would you expect to fly from the Cumberland airport if there was a commercial airline? 1-3 times — 121, 4 or more times — 28.

4) How important is it for you to see a commercial airline come to the Cumberland airport? Very important — 56, important — 80, unimportant — 15, very unimportant — 8.

5) How many commercial flights a week would you expect to see at the Cumberland airport? 1 to 2 — 29, 3 to 4 — 56, 5 to 6 — 33, 7 plus — 37.

Cropper said he realizes his survey is not one that is professionally done and is merely an academic exercise, but he said he hopes the findings will nevertheless promote more interest in the airport and its future.

He expressed appreciation to Ryan Shaffer of the Greater Cumberland Regional Airport, Dr. Sydney Duncan of Frostburg State  University, and Jan Alderton, managing editor of the Times-News, for their assistance in the project.