AirTran to end Hudson Valley flights

AirTran Airways will cease service at Stewart International Airport as of Sept. 3. High fuel costs have led to mounting losses for the low-fare airline, officials said.

There was no formal announcement, said Judy Graham-Weaver, public relations manager for the low-fare airline.

"Yes, unfortunately it is true. Due to skyrocketing fuel costs," she said in an e-mail.

Tad Hutcheson, AirTran vice president of marketing, said, "We've had continued mounting losses there and we just can't continue."

U.S. Rep. John Hall, D-Dover, in an e-mail urged AirTran Airways to continue flights.

Hall, vice chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Aviation, said he has offered to work with the company to ensure a continuation of services at Stewart would be beneficial to both AirTran and Hudson Valley residents.

"With the increased congestion in the New York area over the last few years, and the recent decision by the FAA to install a cap-based system at the major New York City airports, I fully expect the importance of Stewart to expand greatly in the near future," Hall wrote.

AirTran is one of the two main carriers serving Stewart, sharing responsibility with JetBlue Airways for a near-tripling of passengers using the airport in 2007.

AirTran flies from Stewart to Atlanta, Orlando, Fort Lauderdale and Tampa. It began Stewart service on Jan. 11, 2007.

A total of 315,555 people flew on AirTran flights in the 12 months ended in March, according to data posted by Stewart's operator, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. JetBlue had 357,399.

The Port Authority said in a statement it was disappointed.

"But as airport stewards for more than half a century, we know that this is a remarkably resilient industry," the statement said.

AirTran will become the second airline to leave the airport this year.

Skybus Airlines had a brief Stewart run going to Columbus, Ohio, and Greensboro, N.C., but went out of business after April 14, citing rising fuel costs.

Across the country, airlines have been scaling back the number of flights and canceling routes, citing higher fuel costs.

The Air Transport Association, which represents the larger carriers, stated recently: "The portion of an airline ticket needed to pay for fuel has risen from 15% in 2000 to 40% in 2008 — and it continues to climb. Airline stock analysts suggest that to survive — not to make a profit — the industry will have to reduce capacity by about 20%, which means fewer flights, more crowded flights, fewer hubs, elimination of all air service to some smaller cities — with devastating economic consequences to local economies."

The Poughkeepsie Journal is owned by Gannett, parent company of USA TODAY.