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Southern Airways: Latrobe-to-Pittsburgh flights to begin in late spring

Joe Napsha
| Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2016, 10:48 p.m.

Southern Airways Express commuter flights from Latrobe to Pittsburgh — which the company hoped to start this holiday season — won't get off the ground until late spring, an airline official said Tuesday.

The commuter carrier from Memphis has been delayed in initiating the 25-minute flights between Arnold Palmer Regional and Pittsburgh International airports as it worked on another project to expand its services in the region, said Southern Airways spokesman Keith Soisson.

Southern Airways started commuter service between Pittsburgh and the Venango Regional Airport near Franklin after acquiring that route when it bought Sun Air Express in March, an official at the airport said.

Southern also announced Tuesday it was beginning new, daily service connecting DuBois to Baltimore and Pittsburgh beginning Nov. 30.

The airline had not announced a starting date for its Latrobe service, but Mark R. Cestari, Southern Airways' executive vice president for business development, said in August he had hoped flights could begin by the holiday travel season.

Southern Airways' target market out of Arnold Palmer Regional in Unity will be business travelers, he said.

“We see a lot of interest in the Pittsburgh service. I think it will be a successful route,” Soisson said.

The airline will offer four daily flights to Pittsburgh on a nine-passenger plane, saving travelers from central Westmoreland County a drive of about 60 miles to the airport in western Allegheny County. Arnold Palmer Regional has not had commuter service to Pittsburgh since 2004, when U.S. Airways Express ended its service.

For Excela Health, which operates hospitals in Latrobe, Greensburg and Mt. Pleasant, having local connections to an international airport adds value when trying to attract doctors from around the country, said Excela spokeswoman Jennifer Miele. The hospital recruited 40 physicians from across the nation in the past year, she said.

“As a recruiting tool, that's a home run,” Miele said of the commuter service.

For St. Vincent College, which sits across Route 30 from the end of the airport's runway, having a commuter service to Pittsburgh makes a big difference for students going home, faculty traveling to conferences and campus visitors, said school spokesman Don Orlando.

As chairman of the Greater Latrobe-Laurel Valley Regional Chamber of Commerce board, Orlando said he has talked to many people who have expressed an interest in using the commuter service.

“We think it will be an immediate success,” Orlando said.

Supporters of the service say it could be less costly to fly to Pittsburgh, rather than driving there and paying to park. While fares for the Latrobe service have not been set, Southern Airways offers one-way service to Pittsburgh starting as low as $29 from regional airports such as DuBois, Altoona, Johnstown and Franklin.

The flights from the smaller airports are offered through the Essential Air Service Program, a federally subsidized program that is meant to connect rural and major airports.Service between Pittsburgh and Harrisburg International Airport is scheduled to begin Oct. 31, with one-way fares starting at $128, plus taxes and fees.

Joe Napsha is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-836-5252 or jnapsha@tribweb.com.

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