The Maryland Aviation Administration selected a New Hampshire company yesterday to provide state-subsidized flights between Western Maryland and Baltimore.
If the final contract is approved, Boston-Maine Airways will operate three round-trip flights a day between Cumberland, Hagerstown and Baltimore-Washington International Airport.
Customers will be transported on a 19-seat British Aerospace Jetstream-31. Each leg of the BWI-Hagerstown-Cumberland flight should take 20 or 25 minutes, with round-trip fares expected to cost $100 to $125. Service is expected to begin by fall.
The state has allocated $2.25 million for the service through June 2002 and an additional $2 million is expected to be approved.
"The people of Western Maryland want and need a convenient way to get to BWI," said House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. in a prepared statement.
"Having a connection to BWI also gives the Hagerstown and Cumberland areas a major asset for businesses that are looking to expand, which means more jobs and a larger tax base," added Taylor, who represents Cumberland and sponsored the legislation.
A final contract has yet to be negotiated between the aviation administration and Boston-Maine, which is an affiliate of Pan American Airways.
Once negotiations are complete, the contract will go to the Board of Public Works on June 13 for approval. The aviation administration said it would not discuss specific reasons for its selection until a contract is final.
Boston-Maine also is awaiting approval from the Federal Aviation Administration to conduct scheduled service; it is now authorized to do only charter trips. FAA approval is expected next month, said John R. Nadolny, the airline's senior vice president.
Economic development officials in Western Maryland said the flights will be a boon to the area as it tries to retain and attract businesses. Both Cumberland and Hagerstown now have service only to Pittsburgh, whose hub - dominated by US Airways - has fewer airline choices than BWI.
"It is a basic element of modern business development - you've got to have air services," said John Kirby, deputy director of Allegany County's Department of Economic Development. "We certainly would not want to be marketing a community for technology-based businesses or upscale tourism without offering the option of direct air services."
Cassandra Latimer, marketing director for the Hagerstown-Washington County economic development commission, said the service is "really good news."
"It's another convenience our business community can offer to companies here or companies who are looking at Washington County as a new location," she said.
Other bidders for the contract were A. C. Express of Morgantown, W. Va., Chesapeake Air Inc. of West Chester, Pa., and Harbor Air of Warrenton, Va.