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County picks American Eagle

TIMES STAFF WRITER
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Jefferson County wants American Eagle Airlines.


The county will make a recommendation to the federal Department of Transportation favoring air service at Watertown International Airport, Dexter, through the airline.


The airline offered 44-seat Embraer regional jets flying to Chicago-O'Hare International Airport, twice per day on weekdays and once per day on weekends.


"Chicago is much in step with what the Fort Drum community was needing," said Barry M. Ormsby, the legislature's ad hoc airport committee chairman.


He announced the preference to the full Board of Legislators during its meeting Tuesday night.


DOT will ultimately make the decision, but local preference plays a heavy part in that, as does price and qualifications. Mr. Ormsby expected the department to move quickly.


American would service the county's airport through Essential Air Service, a subsidy program. It has requested a $3 million subsidy, and fares would be $142 per ticket.


DOT has competing bids from current provider Cape Air, Hyannis, Mass. That airline offered continued nine-seat flights twice per day to Albany, for $59, with a second leg to Boston, for $91. The subsidy would continue at $1,665,889 per year, or with a four-year contract, $1,615,912 per year.


Charter Air Transport, Cleveland, and Public Charters, Avoca, Pa., made a joint Alternate Essential Air Service proposal. It offered two daily flights except on Tuesday, on 30-seat Embraer Brasilia twin-turboprop planes.


But Charter Air would need the county to handle the subsidy. It does not yet have interline agreements with other airlines to pick up its passengers.


The subsidized tickets would be $122 one-way after a $1.9 million annual subsidy.


In a flight destination analysis by Charter Air, the plurality, 35 percent, of Fort Drum-related flights went to O'Hare. Over 60 percent were to destinations in the Eastern U.S.


Mr. Ormsby said the feedback from Fort Drum and the business community was very important as the committee made its decision.


A recent survey of businesses through the Greater Watertown-North Country Chamber of Commerce list showed a preference for New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport.


"That was not one of our choices," Mr. Ormsby said. "The Eastern seaboard had some support and there were some people who chose Chicago."


American Eagle, Fort Worth, Texas, has 1,500 daily departures from 180 airports.


The airline told the county it could begin flights as soon as June 9.


"Working with a 44-seat regional jet — that is a great step," Mr. Ormsby said.

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