US Airways Express Stops Island Flights After Oct. 15; Carrier Cites Increased Costs

By JOSHUA SABATINI

US Airways Express, in its fifth year of servicing the Island, announced Monday that Oct. 15 will be its last day operating out of the Vineyard airport.

Colgan Airlines, located in Virginia, signed on as co-carrier for US Airways last December. Vice president of marketing for Colgan, Mary Finnigan, said the decision came in response to the decreases in airline traffic and the need to cut back flights. "We have to focus on where the passengers will be the greatest in numbers, and we are downsizing," she explained. Mrs. Finnigan said she hopes the service will return to the Vineyard next spring, but nothing is certain.

Vineyard airport station manager Bill Weibrecht said the airline's decision "is all part of the fallout of the system restructuring and the reductions that are happening because of increased costs and lack of passengers. Ultimately, this is a matter of increased cost and decreased revenues for all operators."

The gap in service will be noticeable. Seasonally, from June to October, US Airways connected the Vineyard with several markets: Boston, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, La Guardia, White Plains and Pittsburgh.

Last year, for the first time, the Vineyard airport did not retain any year-round New York service of any kind. "This year we had convinced US Airways to keep at least one flight a day to New York all season long, and that was good for the Island, good for us and good for the businesses that depend on that market," said Mr. Weibrecht. "The advanced bookings were positive, according to US Air, as recently as Sept. 12. So it wasn't that the market wasn't going to support that service."

After Oct. 15, the only passenger service to and from the Vineyard airport will be Cape Air. Cape Air flies direct routes from Boston, Providence and New Bedford to the Island. Any New York service will have to be by way of a connecting flight from Boston or Providence. Connecting flights to Washington are not available because that airport is shut down. Also, shuttle service between Boston and New York has drastically decreased.

Cape Air is continuing its regular service. Passengers flying off-Island have the difficult task of synchronizing their flights out of the cities, especially with the decrease in flights and the time delays due to heightened security.

Mr. Weibrecht advised people to think about how they travel as far as what they bring with them. "Part of the difficulty with getting through the screening process at any airport is the amount of stuff that people try to carry on with them. That is increasing the volume of what has to be checked and rechecked. Travel light. Carry just what you need in order to speed the process. And be conscious of the items you are carrying. Essentially, anything that has the potential to be used as a weapon is not going to be allowed."

The Vineyard airport reopened on Sept. 13.

"Things are slowly returning to normal, at least at the airports we are serving, Boston, New York and the regional ones. Ridership on the past Sunday at our airport took a noticeable increase, which was encouraging. People's attitudes are supportive of the increased security measures," said Mr. Weibrecht.

The increase in security does mean a longer wait before flights. "People have to understand it is not going to be the same as it ever was," said Mr. Weibrecht.

Mr. Weibrecht said he is trying to seek other carriers to fill the vacancy, but it is difficult since every airline is going through the same hard times.

So when Oct. 15 does roll around, passengers will be faced with delays. Mr. Weibrecht said, "Passengers traveling on from Boston or Providence are going to have to leave themselves more time to make the connections."

In addition, the old manner of arriving at the Vineyard airport five minutes prior to flight takeoff has become a thing of the past. Passengers are advised to arrive at the airport at least 45 minutes before their scheduled departure time.

There are other visible changes at the airport. A heightened security presence remains on the premises. There is no passenger pickup parking along the terminal's front drive. The two closest parking lots are closed indefinitely. Although there is plenty of short and long-term parking available, the walk to the airport entrance is much longer. The changes were implemented based on FAA recommendations. Mr. Weibrecht said a concern for parking is the unpaved spots now in use, especially with the approach of winter. Some paving may have to be done.

"For us, no more will it be check-in, go through screening, get on board the airplane," said Mr. Weibrecht. "There will be a whole time in the middle of that to allow us to handle the volume of people who need to be security screened." New security methods will bring structural changes within the building such as a waiting area inside, not outside as it stands today. The security equipment will be upgraded as well as the surrounding outside fences. These changes are planned to be completed within 60 to 90 days.

Mr. Weibrecht said business at the airport during the months of July and August was higher than past years. "We have had a good season up to this point," said Mr. Weibrecht. Fuel sales, passenger traffic and the total number of airplanes were all up. The increased business has more than offset the airport's September decline, he said.