CEREDO — American Airlines will temporarily suspend service at Huntington Tri-State Airport, according to the airport’s director.
“We received notification from American Airlines officials later yesterday that they are forced to temporarily suspend service at the Huntington Tri-State Airport and 14 other markets from Oct. 7 through Nov. 3,” airport director Brent Brown said Thursday.
The other airports are Del Rio, Texas; Dubuque and Sioux City, Iowa; Florence, South Carolina; Pitt-Greenville, North Carolina; Joplin, Missouri; Kalamazoo/Battle Creek, Michigan; Lake Charles, Louisiana; New Haven, Connecticut; New Windsor, New York; Roswell, New Mexico; Springfield, Illinois; Stillwater, Oklahoma; and Williamsport, Pennsylvania.
Brown says American Airlines cited a few reasons for this decision.
“First, the requirement laid out in the CARES Act for them to keep all of their routes ends Sept. 30,” he said. “Second, traffic is still slow to recover nationwide, and historically October is a slow month for business travel.”
Brown said airline officials said the suspension of service is temporary and will be evaluated on a monthly basis. American Airlines offered a daily flight to Charlotte, North Carolina.
“The airline officials are very adamant that this decision was a temporary suspension and they intend to be back in operation at Huntington Tri-State as soon as possible,” he said.
Brown posted the news to the airport’s Facebook page and added that airline labor unions and executives from carriers, including American, have urged federal lawmakers to provide another $25 billion in payroll grants and loans to airlines.
“While the initiative has gained bipartisan support in Congress, lawmakers have failed to reach a deal for another national coronavirus aid package that could include the additional airline aid,” Brown said in his post. “We are in direct communication with our federal delegation and state leadership on this challenge.”
The airline said the cuts and other service changes will be under review as Congress debates whether to extend financial aid to the aviation industry through next March. The airline said it will publish its November schedule late next month.
“This is the first step as American continues to evaluate its network and plans for additional schedule changes in the coming weeks,” American said in its statement.
This spring, lawmakers passed a $50 billion package designed to keep the airlines afloat as the coronavirus ravaged the business, driving down passenger volumes by as much as 95%. The money came with provisions designed to protect workers and smaller communities, but as the expiration of those protections approaches, airline executives have said they expect their operations to be smaller.
As part of the rescue package, Congress gave the U.S. Department of Transportation the power to require airlines to maintain pre-pandemic levels of service until March 2022. But the department chose only to exercise that power until Sept. 30 of this year, when a ban on furloughs and layoffs of airline employees also expires.
Tri-State Airport is 3 miles south of Huntington, near Ceredo and Kenova.
“At Huntington Tri-State Airport, we would ask that each of you, when traveling, please consider HTS first,” Brown added. “We would also ask that you pass this same message along to your families, friends and co-workers. Our airport is a vital cornerstone for economic development and attraction in our region, and it is important to demonstrate to American Airlines, and others, that we all support this airport and its operations.”
Huntington Mayor Steve Williams also issued a statement following the report.
“Although I am not pleased with this suspension, airline officials have assured me this decision was made primarily because they are awaiting for federal lawmakers to provide an extension of the Payroll Support Program,” Williams said. “This program, which expires Sept. 30, not only requires airlines to avoid furloughs of employees, but it also ensures the continuation of air service to smaller regional airports such as Huntington Tri-State. This underscores the importance for Congress to act swiftly on an extension that will help the airline industry as it continues to deal with the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic. I trust that our congressional delegation will continue to support Huntington Tri-State Airport in this matter and convey the message to their counterparts in the Senate and House that quality air service is critical to economic development in our region.”
The Washington Post reported demand for air travel began to rebound in late April as the virus’s spread slowed and growth continued steadily until mid-July. But growth has all but stalled since then and airline leaders now say they expect the ultimate recovery to be prolonged, perhaps taking several years.
On Wednesday, just 587,000 people passed through Transportation Security Administration screening checkpoints, compared with 2.3 million last year.