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American Eagle to begin Watertown service

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Direct flights to the Magnificent Mile and Bears football games begin Nov. 17 for travelers from the north country.

Dale E. Morris, managing director for government affairs and community relations for American Airlines, announced the start date to applause and whistles from Jefferson County officials and business people at Watertown International Airport on Tuesday afternoon.

“There’s a lot of excitement back at headquarters, which is a testimony to you, it’s a testimony to the community and a testimony to your leaders,” he said.

The airline will receive $3,047,972 annually through a federal Department of Transportation Essential Air Service contract to fly 44-seat Embraer ERJ 140 aircraft from the airport on Route 12F near Dexter to Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport. The planes carry nearly five times as many passengers as the nine-seat Cessnas flown by the current carrier, Cape Air. Twelve flights per week will depart from Watertown, two on each weekday plus one each on Saturday and Sunday. A search Tuesday morning revealed a cost of $163 for the first flight out.

“We have more than 500 flights per day out of the Chicago hub, which will provide great opportunity for you, your families and soldiers that are deployed,” Mr. Morris said.

American Eagle, Fort Worth, Texas, has 1,700 daily departures from 180 airports. It is the regional service partner of American Airlines.

“Our priority from day one was to promote the facility and provide sustainable, affordable air service for the business community, our friends at Fort Drum and vacationers and get on the road map with a legacy carrier,” said county Legislator Barry M. Ormsby, chairman of the ad hoc airport committee. “We just feel extremely fortunate to partner with American Eagle, a legacy carrier, which may open other doors for us.”

Assemblyman Kenneth D. Blankenbush, R-Black River, was put on the committee with Mr. Ormsby, R-Belleville, and James A. Nabywaniec, R-Calcium, when the trio were freshmen on the board in 2004.

“Ever since we took over the airport, we thought it was important to get larger aircraft, to get aircraft that can handle troops from Fort Drum and bring in our neighbors from the north and this is a great addition to the airport,” he said. “Through American Eagle flights to Chicago, we can hit every airline in the world and go anywhere we want to. It’s a great accomplishment for the county.”

American Eagle officials are visiting local travel agents and Fort Drum to market the flights. Tickets will be available through travel agents and American Airlines’ website. Watertown airport’s call letters are ART, while O’Hare’s are ORD.

Flights from Watertown will leave at 7:10 a.m. for a 8:55 a.m. arrival at O’Hare, every day except Sunday, and at 5:05 p.m. for a 6:45 p.m. arrival at O’Hare, every day except Saturday. Flights from Chicago will leave at 1:30 p.m. for a 4:25 p.m. arrival in Watertown, every day except Sunday, and at 6:30 p.m. for a 9:30 p.m. arrival, every day except Saturday.

“Since the past winter, this is all I’ve thought about,” Jefferson County legislature Chairwoman Carolyn D. Fitzpatrick, R-Watertown, said. “This is one of the best things that has ever happened in the north country.”

The county Board of Legislators voted Tuesday night to spend $794,750 on expanding the airport terminal for the expected increase in traffic. The project will expand a baggage area and secure seating area. The money will be moved from another capital expenditure account, funded with the money the county received as part of the payment for the Residential Communities Initiative, or housing built on Fort Drum.

The total is based on awarding contracts to the low bidders on the project, plus a 10 percent contingency. Continental Construction, Gouverneur, bid $625,000 on the general construction; Hyde-Stone Mechanical Contractors Inc., Watertown, bid $51,700 on the mechanical work, and Nytric Electrical Contractors LLC, Watertown, bid $45,800 on the electrical work.

Negotiations are continuing between the county and the airline on getting the exterior equipment needed for baggage and passenger boarding.

Jet air service can lead to strong economic development, said Brian Coutts, director of global sales and Alliance programs for the American Airline regional network. He has started 150 routes in the last 10 years.

“We have a lot of programs geared to small and medium enterprise businesses,” he said. “We will join the chamber and be involved in economic development.”

Airline officials drove up to Watertown this time.

“Next time I come back, I’m going to fly into here,” Mr. Morris said to laughs and applause.

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