Pennsylvania’s ‘Airport For No One’ Can’t Fill Eight Seat Planes, Wants United Express Regional Jets

John Murtha (D-PA) served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1974 until his death in 2010. He is perhaps best known for being targeted in the FBI’s Abscam investigation, where he was taped saying he wanted to “do business for awhile” before potentially being interested in a $50,000 bribe. Murtha eventually testified against two other members of Congress.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington named him one of the most corrupt members of Congress, in part for earmarking government money for campaign contributors.

His legacy, though, is the John Murtha Johnstown–Cambria County Airport, the ‘airport for no one’ in his district which – before the Covid-19 pandemic – saw an average of 17 passengers per day.

  • It has just two federally subsidized ‘Essential Air Service’ routes on Boutique Air, to Baltimore and to Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh is a 75 mile flight.

  • Altoona, Pennsylvania – which has Southern Airways service to the same two cities – is just 27 miles away.

  • John Murtha airport has two runways, it even repaved its second runway with money from the 2009 federal stimulus bill (though the first runway is barely used). The airport’s own director admitted that its having “an $8.5 million, taxpayer-funded radar system that has never been used” was “dumber than dirt.”


Credit: John Murtha Airport

In total the airport had received over $200 million in federal subsidies, even before the latest $5 million infusion from the CARES Act.

An airport like this might appreciate all the air service it gets, but it has decided to support SkyWest’s application for federal subsidies instead of incumbent Boutique Air’s.

Boutique Air was shocked since they’d doubled the number of passengers compared to when Southern Airways operated subsidized service, and because they’d opened a maintenance base at the airport employing 15 people.

This is the airport Monday – Friday flight schedule:

SkyWest wants to run 50 seat regional jets to Chicago O’Hare and Washington Dulles. The airport of course would rather have (1) jets that (2) connect into hubs. While the service is better for the airport I remain skeptical that an airport which couldn’t fill 8 seat turboprops will get the per-passenger subsidy down below $200 on more expensive 50 seat United Express regional jet, as required to continue to receive funds (the airport has consistently received a waiver of this requirement to date).

McQuaide said he believes SkyWest will be able to make good on its promise to get below the $200 mark.

“They’re projecting to meet it, and I believe it,” he said. “There are travel companies that promote group travel, and I’ve gotten emails from some that have said, ‘If you can get a 30- to 35-passenger commuter service, we can start recommending it, but we can’t recommend an eight-seat passenger plane.’ … This is the first time that the Johnstown airport will have jet service on a regular basis. That’s a major milestone. If we can prove that jet service works, I think other airlines will take a look at our airport if we can demonstrate that we can get the ridership using our airport up.”

Cape Air and Southern Airways Express are also proposing to operate subsidized flights at the airport. Though neither does so today and neither has the support of the airport, both are looking for that sweet sweet government cash – the kind that John Murtha used to dole out.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. Even in the bizzare world of pork barrel funding why would someone think flights to DC would be awesome from here. Sure traffic can be bad but its only a few hours down the road even if you lived next to this airport. What a huge waste of money.

  2. If you build it they will come. Or so these fools had hoped.

    Not every town needs an airport.

  3. The legacy of John Murtha lives on, and that isn’t a good thing.

    This town will never thrive without adequate roadways in and out. Instead of completing Rt 219, which could offer this region a fighting chance, this money is squandered.

    Unless the population is willing to make real change in Johnstown at the ballot box, I don’t see how their can be change in this community.

  4. Stunning that no cry comes, during this time of insanity of Maoist cultural revisionism in ripping down America’s historical statues, to remove the name of indeed a very corrupt erstwhile U.S. Congressman from Johnstown airport. That is what the protestors should be demanding.

  5. Defund the EAS to that airport before you defund the police.

    Altoona people should drive to State College, PA. Johnston people should drive to PIT or State College if they want to.

    EAS should be limited to a few places like Dodge City, KS (MCI, ICT and DEN are very far away) and Alaskan airports, like Adak. Johnston, PA is not that isolated.

  6. $$$5 million from CARES nuts Whomever applied for the $$$ funding should be in DEEP trouble…
    what a joke and use of taxpayers dollars…It should be closed and have the $8,5 million radar system donated

  7. Interestingly they didn’t have to apply for the Cares Act funds. DOT just sent them the grant offer. Can’t blaim the manager as it’s his job to keep the bills paid and try to grow the airport and community. Its the DC crowd the keeps EAS allive in places where it doesn’t make sense. If the community won’t support the service then just let it go.

  8. 25 years ago, I did fly here a couple of times. One departure was weight limited due to hot weather. The next flight to PIT was an hour later. There were dollar drafts in the airport bar. Six beers later we were on our way. There was no restroom on the plane which was not good.

    Today I would drive from PIT instead of taking such a short connecting flight.

  9. Aviator $$$ should not be dished out without any application or need… Nuts thanks for the info

  10. Those SkyWest flights might work after all! Because they are to hubs. Plus ORD can get some O&D traffic. While Johnstownians who want to go to Pittsburgh or v.v. will drive. Who the heck wants to buy 2 tickets to fly JST–PIT–hub–destination? But JST–ORD or IAD–destination on one ticket/ one fare is viable!
    However, the weak economy of Johnstown & Altoona means few business travelers in or out.

  11. Wow this is a biased article against the airport. Perhaps the reason that it can’t get higher passenger numbers is because it has a competing airport 29 miles away with the exact same routes (which are super short anyway and don’t have much connection opportunities?). At least SkyWest’s biggest selling point is not our jet service, but that we partner with the major carriers to provide one-stop service around the globe on the same airline. The person writing this article is a fool for not realizing that would greatly increase demand to use this airport. Let alone their other gripes towards the airport (why is it such a shocker is has TWO runways? Wouldn’t you rather it be safe?).

  12. @BB you say I miss the value of connections, maybe you didn’t read the article? “The airport of course would rather have (1) jets that (2) connect into hubs.”

  13. Many of these comments (not all) seem to enjoy bashing Mr Murtha, but fail to recognize his service as a 2 time Purple Heart recipient; United States Marine. He served for all. The airport is wonderful and this town needs support, not insults.

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