Leaders lobby to keep Augusta-to-Washington flight

 

Augusta’s only nonstop flight faces an uncertain future as political and business leaders lobby for its continuation.

The pending merger of American Airlines and US Airways could cause a shake-up at Reagan National Airport in Washington, a hub for US Airways and the destination of a daily flight departing Augusta Regional Airport.

Competing airlines want the merged airline to relinquish flight slots at Reagan National to avoid an unfair advantage and majority control of slots. The combined airline must pass an antitrust review by the U.S. Department of Justice.

More than 100 members of Congress signed a letter dated May 28 urging U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to protect US Airways flights from Reagan National to small- and mid-size cities.

“These flights provide economic benefits by facilitating commerce, encouraging tourism and making these small and medium-sized communities attractive locations for new business,” the letter said.

Among the signers was U.S. Rep. John Barrow, D-Augusta, who said Tuesday he wants to safeguard Augusta’s nonstop flight to the nation’s capital because of its importance to business enterprises in the city.

“A nonstop to Augusta is a key asset to people who are coming back and forth for business in Washington,” he said.

Barrow added that he has only flown the Augusta-to-Washington flight seven times in his last 50 trips between the cities for congressional sessions. The flight schedule doesn’t suit his work schedule, so he more often travels on connecting flights through Atlanta and Charlotte.

US Airways started service from Augusta to Washington on July 11. The 50-passenger flight targeted travelers from Fort Gordon, Savannah River Site, Plant Vogtle and other employers that routinely conduct business in Washington.

In April, the latest data available, the flight averaged 48 percent capacity.

Augusta Regional Airport spokeswoman Lauren Smith said US Airways could maintain service to Augusta even if Reagan National loses flight slots.

“US Airways is extremely happy with the (flight) numbers coming out of Augusta. The merger could even be very positive and we could get additional nonstop flights,” she said.

The Augusta and Columbia County chambers of commerce also wrote letters to the U.S. Department of Transportation emphasizing the flight’s economic importance.

“Augusta is preparing for growth, and quality air-service is a big part of our plans,” said Sue Parr, Augusta Metro Chamber of Commerce president and CEO.

On Monday, Parr said the chamber is encouraging its members and large employers to send their own letters.

“A grassroots campaign in our community will certainly help and is necessary to make sure we get our message across,” she said.

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