FALLS CREEK — The Clearfield-Jefferson Counties Airport Authority, at their virtual meeting Friday, accepted the recommendation from Southern Airways Express, the DuBois Regional Airport’s Essential Air Service, to move their flights, which currently go to Baltimore Washington Airport (BWI) to Washington Dulles Airport beginning June 1.
The recommendation was discussed Friday during a presentation by Southern Airways Express Chief Commercial Officer Mark Cestari, who also announced that Southern Airways is close to an agreement for a partnership with United Airlines. This agreement, he said, would provide many benefits to the airline’s Mid-Atlantic cities because of United’s enormous network, both in the U.S. and globally.
“Travel has changed with COVID and business travel will be the last and the slowest to return, especially government travel, such as going to Capitol Hill to see your elected officials or government agency in general,” said Cestari. “It will rebound, but it’s going to rebound slowly. So it’s forced us to take a look at who’s on board our flights, and where best to serve from our Mid-Atlantic cities.”
DuBois Regional Airport has been serving Pittsburgh and BWI since 2017, and while the Pittsburgh Airport saw up to 85 percent connecting traffic out of DuBois, BWI traffic was almost 80 percent local out of DuBois on a consistent basis, said Cestari.
He said Pittsburgh has lost a big chunk of their service as it is primarily a business destination, and they have reduced the amount of connectivity options from the Mid-Atlantic cities. BWI is primarily a Southwest Airlines airport, and they don’t interline with any other airline.
“To keep enplanements at the prior levels, and certainly we want to grow them, we have a record there of increasing enplanements year over year, the consensus of our team was that we need to take DuBois through at least one connecting hub airport, where there’s a confluence of flights, where there are connecting banks that make it easy to have short layover times,” said Cestari. “And with the new United Interline Agreement, that hub is Washington Dulles. It’s the right distance. Directionally, you can go North, South, West or transatlantic from there. And it is a nice compliment to Pittsburgh.”
Cestari noted that DuBois passengers will still have the connectivity to the low-cost carrier flights, which they like such as Frontier, Allegiant, Spirit, as well as the Southwest connections and connections on American and Alaska over Pittsburgh. He said Dulles has more than 140 nonstop cities around the U.S. and around the world — fives times as many cities as Pittsburgh offers.
“Just the sheer number of single connecting cities should allow us to greatly expand the attractiveness of our service at DuBois, and specifically to retain some of the customers who are driving to State College to make the same Dulles connection,” said Cestari. “They will be able to have identical service in terms of frequency, and they’ll have the benefit of free parking at DuBois. So we think we will retain and recapture many of the United loyal customers we’re losing to State College right now.”
Another benefit with the change to Dulles, said Cestari, is Southern will be adding a second line of flight, which brings an additional aircraft and six new crew members and residents.
“This will also lead to a greater concentration of maintenance work being done in DuBois, which again is good for payroll and good for everyone there,” he said. “So this shift allows us to put more of our maintenance into our DuBois maintenance hub, which is smack dab in the middle of our Mid-Atlantic network, so it works very good. The other benefit of having the second line of flying is that we can improve and optimize our flight times, meaning early morning departures to both Washington and Pittsburgh, and one late-evening return making same day out and back travel possible. So the business folks can literally fly out at 6 a.m., and return home at 11 p.m., never missed a night’s sleep in their own bed.”
Cestari said the same day out and back travel is not just to Washington or to Pittsburgh, but beyond if one is going to Boston or New York or Raleigh Durham.
“Day trips are now going to be possible for business people there, and people really prefer to do that, not have to pack a bag and eat dinner by themselves and sleep in a hotel, so that is a big benefit of making this shift,” he said.
Southern sees this move as a huge step forward for the people of Clearfield and Jefferson counties.
“It was a combination of nearly four years of work by Southern to seal the deal with United,” said Cestari. “We’re a small carrier and to be able to get on their radar and engage them in this kind of a partnership, we think is going to be good for Southern, good for our communities, and most of all for your airport as well.”
Authority Chairman Jay Chamberlin said that DuBois Regional Airport has a letter from Southern CEO Stan Little, who confirmed the benefits of flying to Washington Dulles and that they are going to keep fares low.
“They will have the extra plane with maintenance and crew station here, and they’ll keep our flights the same as we had, three and three out of DuBois to Pittsburgh, and three to DuBois to Washington Dulles, unless the board would decide that’s not appropriate and they’re not anticipating that change in a hub, unless again, there’s supporting evidence through the board then that would need to be changed,” said Chamberlin. “We appreciate Stan putting that in writing for us.”