There’s turbulence at the Erie International Airport following the announcement that United Airlines is departing, leaving American Airlines as the sole carrier.
The executive director of the airport discussed with JET 24 anchor/reporter Jennifer Mobilia the significance of United’s decision, and what it means for the future of the airport.
“I got a media request from United yesterday for a meeting at 4:15 in the afternoon, I didn’t know what it was about. So, at 4:15 I had a meeting with United, and that’s when I was informed, and my board was informed shortly thereafter,” said Derek Martin, executive director of the Erie International Airport.
(Jennifer Mobilia) “So, there was no heads up?“
“No, there’s no communication. They make a business decision. Once they make their business decisions, they move on,” Martin answered.
Officials at the Erie International Airport said they were blindsided by United’s decision to terminate service in and out of Erie on June 2.
“Well, I think like most people in the community, [I] was shocked. I mean, if you look at what they did recently, they gauge the aircraft from a 50-passenger plane to a 70-passenger plane. So that seems to be a positive thing. They said we’re going to do one now, we’re going to do one later,” Martin stated.
Martin said United’s move is a result of the pandemic, not a lack of passengers. He said from September through February, 85 percent of United’s flights in and out of Erie were full.
“So, we are getting the passenger traffic. That was not the problem. The problem is the economics of the airlines, and that aircraft and pilots pay, which eliminated that service,” Martin explained.
(Jennifer Mobilia) “There are some people in the community, including former board members, who said you are being paid a very handsome salary. And here we are. We’re down to one airline. What would you say in response?“
“Well, that’s nice that they say that, but my only job is not airfare service. This is a federal facility. There are safety mechanisms and things that we have to have in place to accommodate air travel. And so, the airport does not make decisions on air travel, the airlines do,“ Martin answered.
Martin said he’s already begun the process of trying to land another airline to fill United’s void. He’s also talking with American Airline executives on Monday in hopes of getting them to expand their services.
But Greg Hayes, the owner of North Coast Flight School and former Erie International Airport board member, said that might not be so easy because right now airlines are trying to cut costs.
“When you have Cleveland, Buffalo and Pittsburgh around us, yes, it is a very nice convenience to have Erie, but convenience at a time of hard times. Conveniences go away. They take care of the necessities,” said Greg Hayes, former ERI board member.
Hayes said this also puts the airport in jeopardy of losing federal funds from the Airport Improvement Program (AIP).
“The AIP money demands a certain amount of flights. We are now below those flights,” Hayes said.
However, according to Martin, the AIP funding is based on the number of passengers boarding at the Erie Airport, not the number of flights.
The airport director said the Erie County Executive, City of Erie mayor and congressman Mike Kelly have all reached out to him.
Congressman Kelly released a statement, saying in part:
“Although I understand this is a business decision, the federal government has assisted the airlines with billions of dollars in support since the pandemic to restore service and help Americans resume air travel. I encourage United to restore its services to Erie.”