May 11, 2009

Schumer, Gillibrand Urge Continental to Reverse Flawed Decision to Cut Service from Ithaca Tompkins to Newark

With Increasing Passenger Numbers, Ithaca Tompkins is in Need of Fast, Effective Round Trip Service

U.S. Senators Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand today wrote to Continental Airlines urging them to reconsider the withdrawal of all four daily, round-trip CommutAir flights between Ithaca Tompkins Regional Airport and Newark Liberty International Airport.  Continental's decision to withdraw flights was initially based on the concern that congestion at Newark has made it difficult to fly in and out of the New York City airspace, but Senators Schumer and Gillibrand said that the strength of Ithaca Tompkins's enplanement numbers, combined with new leadership at the Department of Transportation (DOT) will make the airport a more attractive market than ever.

"Cutting service in the face of increased demand, fewer delays and new leadership at the Department of Transportation makes no sense," said Schumer. "Continental has a golden opportunity to take advantage of this growing demand by keeping its round trip flights to Newark. With a new DOT Secretary in charge, the FAA will be better equipped to handle congestion, making travel from Ithaca Tompkins to Newark more popular and lucrative. Maintaining service in a growing market would be a good decision for Continental in the long run, and I urge them to reverse their decision to withdraw the flight so that New Yorkers can reap the benefits of better, more efficient air travel."

"Many families and businesses rely on air service between Ithaca and Newark," Senator Gillibrand said. "Cutting these flights will undermine economic growth and just doesn't make sense. As we continue working on our economic recovery, we can't afford to lose these critical flights. I will work with Senator Schumer to convince Continental to retain these flights."

Between February 2008 and January 2009, Ithaca Tompkins Airport experienced a .68 percent increase in both arriving and departing passengers, demonstrating a rising demand for travel, even as the industry weakened elsewhere in the country.  Ridership on the four continental daily continental flights to Newark rose to 2,705 in April, and they were on average 72 percent full. 

During that same time period, New York and New Jersey airports have been bogged down with congestion that has affected air travel throughout the entire country. Under the previous Administration, the DOT was not prepared to clear up congestion over the New York City airspace nor was it capable of focusing on increasing safety in our nation's skies, or smoothing operations at our nation's airports.

Senators Schumer and Gillibrand said today that the new DOT Secretary Ray LaHood is ready and able to combat flight delays in the New York, and will be appointing a new Administrator to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) who will be capable of implementing a real solution to New York City's troubled airspace. Schumer and Gillibrand indicated that the presence of the new DOT Secretary Ray LaHood coupled with the growing demand for travel at Ithaca Tompkins make the market extremely attractive and urged Continental to continue daily operations to and from Newark.

To help keep the four roundtrip CommutAir flights at Ithaca Tompkins Regional, Senators Schumer and Gillibrand wrote to Continental Airlines CEO Lawrence Kellner urging him to reverse his decision.

In the letter, the Senators wrote, "We are confident that the new Administration, along with FAA reauthorizing legislation, will work to implement a real solution to New York City's troubled airspace.  For all of these reasons I ask that Continental reverse the decision to completely pull CommutAir's presence from Ithaca Tompkins Regional Airport."


May 11, 2009

Lawrence Kellner
Chief Executive Officer
Continental Airlines
1600 Smith St.,34th Fl - HQSCR Houston, TX 77002

Dear Mr. Kellner:

We write to urge Continental Airlines to reconsider the withdrawal of all four daily, round-trip CommutAir flights from Ithaca Tompkins Regional Airport (ITH) to Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR).  While we understand your concerns that the congestion at EWR have created a climate in which it is difficult to fly in and out of the New York City airspace, we are confident that the strength of ITH's enplanement numbers, combined with new leadership at the Department of Transportation (DOT) will make ITH a more attractive market than ever.  

There is no denying that the New York airspace is plagued with many problems.  The New York and New Jersey airports are bogged down with congestion that affects air travel throughout the entire country.  However, aviation experts expect this summer's delays to be a decrease over the delays of summers past.

A snapshot of ITH shows that, from February 2008 to January 2009, the number of people getting on planes was actually increasing at the airport.  The airport enjoyed a .68% increase in both arriving and departing passengers over that time period, demonstrating a rising demand for travel, even as the industry soured elsewhere in the country.  Meanwhile, Continental's passenger boardings for April rose to 2,705, with an average load factor across the four flights of 72%.

We are also encouraged by the presence of a new administration that has brought with it a new DOT.  DOT Secretary Ray LaHood stands ready and able to take on an incredible amount of work in the coming months, not the least of which is appointing a new Administrator to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).  The last administration left the agency in a state of disorganization that impaired its ability to focus on safety in our nation's skies, and smooth operations at our nation's airports.  Their proposed solution to congestion in the New York City airspace was to implement an untested scheme of auctioning takeoff and landing slots at airports- a proposal that Secretary LaHood thankfully opposes.

To put it simply, the last DOT did not know how to clear up congestion over New York City.  We are confident that the new administration, with the help of provisions enacted in the FAA reauthorizing legislation, will work to implement a real solution to New York City's troubled airspace.  For all of these reasons we ask that Continental reverse the decision to completely pull CommutAir's presence from ITH.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.  If you have any questions or need additional information, please contact Katie Kulpa in Senator Schumer's Washington, DC office at 202-224-6542 or Ben Rosenbaum in Senator Gillibrand's Washington, DC office at 202-224-4451.

Sincerely,

U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer
U.S. Senator Kirsten E. Gillibrand