MORGANTOWN – Morgantown is among five communities in the county in danger of losing its federal subsidy for Essential Air Service after failing to meet statutory eligibility criteria.
Andrew Stacy, Communication Manager for the City of Morgantown, confirmed the city received the order from the United States Department of Transportation tentatively terminating Essential Air Service eligibility for requiring a rate more than the $200 per passenger subsidy cap during fiscal year 2018.
The order was served March 29 and Morgantown 20 days to submit objections and/or petitions for waivers.
According to Stacy, the city is actively working on a response letter urging the USDOT to continue the subsidy.
“A similar response letter, written last year, was successful in maintaining the Essential Air Service for the last eleven months,” Stacy explained in an e-mail to WAJR.
“We support the effort to increase affordable, convenient options for air travel in Morgantown. The continuation of the EAS service will serve this region and will continue to be an asset to the community.”
During FY2018, Morgantown received a federal subsidy of $2,988,960 but only realized 10,605 total passengers coming through the airport, forcing the rate per passenger up to $282. It marked the second straight year Morgantown came in over the mandated $200 per person cap.
In fiscal year 2017, Morgantown was just over the subsidy cap at $210 per passenger.
City Manager Paul Brake told The Dominion Post he’s confident the city can successfully make its case once again.
“We will be putting together the best possible response and input from industry experts to make a compelling argument,” Brake said. “Yes, I feel confident that we can provide a convincing argument and move on from here.”
According to data from the Federal Aviation Administration, the total number of passengers at Morgantown Municipal Airport has been on a steady decline. For the fiscal year ending on September 30, 2015, a total of 15,015 passengers were shuttled through Morgantown Municipal Airport. That number held steady in FY2016 with 15,009 passengers but sharply dropped the following year.
In FY2017, the total number of passengers fell to 12,241 and declined by another 1,636 passengers in FY2018.
“The city is working closely with Southern Airways on ways to increase enplanements,” Stacy added.
“Last year, Southern implemented an interline agreement with American Airlines and increased its marketing efforts in the area, which has helped increase enplanements. In the first quarter of 2019, Southern has seen an increase in enplanements over the same time last year.”
The order states, The U.S. Secretary of Transportation has the authority to grant waivers from the subsidy cap subject to the availability of funds on a case-by-case basis. In their petitions for waivers, communities must demonstrate how they plan to reach the targets if waivers are granted.
Based on FY2018 numbers, to reach the required $200 per person subsidy cap, Morgantown Municipal Airport would have to reduce costs by nearly $867,000.
Morgantown may file objections and petitions for waivers.
The order indicates the subsidy will not be terminated until all objections and petitions are reviewed.