Airport, business leaders start working to restore nonstop Washington flight

American Airlines could be best hope for return
Augusta's direct flight to the nation's capital will vanish sometime in the next few months. An exact date isn't known.

 

Augusta Regional Airport and area business leaders started work Thursday to restore Augusta’s nonstop flight to Washington, D.C., by 2017, when the Army Cyber Command will open a new headquarters on Fort Gordon.

When Augusta’s direct flight to Washing­ton’s Reagan National Airport ends in a few months, travelers flying to the nation’s capital should still start their trips in Augusta, leaders said. Choosing to make a connecting flight in Charlotte or Atlanta could help bring back the convenience of a nonstop flight.

“The potential to re-establish that (flight) will be based on showing the number of folks going back and forth,” said Thom Tuckey, the executive director of the CSRA Alliance for Fort Gordon. “Keep flying Augusta so we have the numbers to help get it back.”

American Airlines Group announced Wednes­day that it’s ending nonstop service from Augusta Regional to Reagan National as part of American Airlines’ merger with US Airways. Augusta was one of 17 small and midsize cities that lost flights when the merged airline – now the world’s biggest airline operator – agreed to give up 52 slots at Rea­gan National to avoid controlling a majority of slots.

In addition to hundreds of military personnel that will move to Augusta to work at the Cyber Command, Tuckey said defense contractors are expected to expand operations in Augusta. Many of those contractors have headquarters in or around Washington.

Diane Johnston, Augusta Regional’s marketing director, said she has talked with US Air­ways representatives frequently in recent months about the community’s need for the flight, especially when Cyber Com­mand operations begin.

“They are certainly well aware of it and they are going to keep monitoring the market,” Johnston said.

The date of the last direct flight will not be known until the sale of the slots is finalized, but Johnston said it only has a few months left. Once it is discontinued, it will be at least a year before an airline would consider bringing the flight back, she said.

“It’ll be important for Fort Gordon to keep using our airport when they go to Washing­ton because that’s what they are going to be looking at,” Johnston said.

The 50-passenger flight also targeted officials from Savannah River Site, Plant Vogtle and Georgia Regents University. Local business and political leaders lobbied to save the flight, emphasizing its importance to the Augusta economy.

The incoming and outgoing flight – which started service July 11, 2012 – typically operated Sunday through Friday in the evening. Near­ly 30,000 passengers used the direct flight through De­cem­ber.

Sue Parr, the president and CEO of the Augusta Metro Chamber of Commerce, said a direct flight would get even more use in the future as Augusta and Fort Gordon continue to grow.

“With that level of service and engagement of that flight, it only stands to grow,” she said.

Johnston said Augusta’s best chance of restoring direct service to Washington will be with American Air­lines. The Justice De­partment said that the slots given up by the merged airlines should be made available to budget airlines such as JetBlue and South­west. Augusta does not have the air traffic to fill the large aircraft that low-cost carriers usually fly, Johnston said.

U.S. Rep. John Barrow, D-Ga., said Thursday that he’s joining the fight to keep a direct flight to Washington.

“The nonstop flight has been an invaluable resource to the business community in our region and put us at a real advantage that allowed our community to continue to grow,” he said in a statement.

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