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Pilots, mechanics and flight attendants are being hired as the Salisbury-Ocean City-Wicomico Regional Airport continues the transition from props to jets.
Last week, 27, E-147 Embraer jets arrived and the 28th aircraft was expected this week, said Jackie Jennings, who handles public relations for the airport.
The Piedmont Airlines jets, each which seats 50 passengers, came to Salisbury from a sister airline and have had interiors upgraded and heavy maintenance performed.
“They look completely different from props. They are longer. Of course they don’t have propellers. They look really nice,” Jenkins said, adding the planes have stirred considerable public attention.
“People really like them. A lot of people have been coming out in the evenings. We have one jet that takes off at 6:20 and every evening, people are there watching. It’s so cute when the little kids come to watch. It’s adorable,” she said.
By comparison, turbo props have propellers and jets have faster engines. Props are Canadian planes, while the jets came from South America. Several years ago, there were Allegiant Air jets at the airport, flying to Orlando, but service stopped.
Every weekday, four flights are scheduled from Salisbury to Philadelphia and two to Charlotte, N.C.
Two jets and two props fly to Philadelphia, a 19-minute, one-way trip. On Saturdays, there are three flights, two in jets and one by prop. On Sundays, there are four flights, two by jet and two by prop, Jennings said.
Daily flights begin at 6:40 a.m. and the last jet returns at 9:48 p.m.
Travelers to Charlotte are in the air about an hour. There will be the same number of flights from Salisbury to Philadelphia and Charlotte, but the jets have more seating capacity.
Overnight, maintenance is completed on aircraft at the Salisbury airport. More employees weren’t hired, but having maintenance based locally makes jobs there more secure, Jennings said.
Last August, Bob Bryant, who was general manager of the airport at the time, told the Salisbury Independent the arrival of jets could mean a 600-foot extension for one of the two runways, but Jenkins said there are no immediate plans for extension.
The primary runway is 6,400 feet long. At a Wicomico County Council meeting last August, County Administrator Wayne Strausburg told Council members that runway will likely have to be extended to 7,000 feet.
Replacing props with jets “is great for Piedmont,” Jennings said.
“We are one of the few regional airlines that is actually growing. So many people are seeing cuts in aircraft, cuts in service and we just continue to grow, so we’re very excited,” she said last year.
“We know passengers prefer the jet and we’re happy to provide that service for American and for our passengers. We love our (prop) Dashes. Our Dashes are great. But passengers prefer jets,” Jennings said.
When it was announced jets would come to Salisbury, County Executive Bob Culver called Piedmont’s announcement “very positive news for Wicomico County and our airport.”
“The executive, airport management and the airport commission chairman, along with David Ryan from Salisbury-Wicomico Economic Development, have been meeting regularly to ensure that we do everything in our power to promote the airline’s strategic plans,” Culver said.
Piedmont Airlines CEO Lyle Hogg said it was “a vote of confidence from American and a goal we worked very hard to achieve.”
“American had previously committed 20 jets to Piedmont and we are pleased that our parent company will now continue to increase the number. The expanding fleet of jets puts Piedmont on an exciting path to the future, and that will lead to even more opportunities,” Hogg stated in a news release.
Piedmont employs more than 7,000 aviation professionals across the country and operates a fleet of 37 Bombardier DHC-8 turbo-prop aircraft on nearly 300 flights per day to 53 cities. It recently opened a Philadelphia base to accommodate the fleet of Embraer 145 regional jets. The ground handling team can be found in 80 airports across the United States, according to a news release.