Chester Air Gets Off The Ground

Posted: April 17, 1988

After months of carrying only a handful of passengers between Chester County and Philadelphia International Airport each week, Chester County Air is beginning to take off. The commuter airline flew about 30 business people from the Chester County/G.O. Carlson Airport in Valley Township, just west of Coatesville, to Philadelphia during March.

Run by Chester County Aviation, the fixed-base operation at the Chester County Airport, Chester County Air went into service Oct. 8 in response to the dramatic increase in business and industry in Chester County in recent years.

Targeting the business traveler who might spend an hour or more driving to or from Philadelphia International, the airline offers six 10-minute flights each way on weekdays, aboard either an eight-passenger Mitsubishi turboprop or a four-passenger Piper Aztec.

Flights, $49 each way, leave Chester County at 5:55 a.m., 7:20 a.m., 8:40 a.m., 3 p.m., 4:20 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. and leave Philadelphia International's Gate D-1 at 6:45 a.m., 8 a.m., 9:30 a.m., 3:45 p.m., 5 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Parking at the Chester County Airport is free.

Flights do not run if there are no passengers.

In spite of the savings in time and parking costs for passengers, Chester County Air had only three customers its first month and 10 the next month.

The reason, said Raymond Conway, vice president of Chester County Aviation, was that the airline had not yet been put into the computer systems travel agents use.

Chester County Air recently entered United Airlines' Apollo computer reservation system, American Airlines' Sabre system and TWA's system. Most travel agents in the area use Apollo or Sabre to prepare tickets, said James Cochran, Chester County Aviation sales manager.

Before Chester County Air entered the systems, tickets had to be hand- written - a task most travel agents were not willing to do, Cochran said. They don't have the time and the manpower, he said.

Since getting into the Apollo and Sabre systems within the last month and a half, Chester County Air has had a significant increase in business in both directions, Cochran said, to the point where it is "slightly below break- even."

"It looks like every month we've been in business now, we're adding more and more people," Cochran said recently.

"We have the flexibility to fly the flights when we want to. We can control when we fly and when we don't fly," Cochran said, adding that the 5:55 and 7:20 a.m. flights so far seemed to be the most popular.

"It looks like we'll have to adjust our flight schedule," perhaps dropping the 8:40 a.m. flight and replacing the 3:45 and 5 p.m. return flights with later flights, around 8:30 or 9 p.m., Cochran said.

Chester County Air is also in the process of entering into interline agreements with the major airlines, which would allow fliers to check their baggage through to their final destination and travel agents to write joint tickets.

"When all that stuff's in place, I can really see where we'll do more business," Cochran said. "April is going to be our biggest month so far.

"We're just starting this thing up," he said. "Like any other business, there's a period of time before you start turning a profit." Cochran predicted that the service would start to make money by midsummer.

Today, Chester County Air's terminal and waiting room - a homey arrangement of overstuffed furniture around a magazine-covered coffee table - are in a worn, pastel yellow-and-blue-striped cinderblock hangar. Within about a year, the facilities will be moved to the airport's new, third hangar, now in the planning stages.

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