Salisbury-based Piedmont enters the Jet Age

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Salisbury-based Piedmont Airlines, operating as American Eagle, started launching jet service as part of its fleet, opening the door to the possibility that they will fly out of Salisbury someday.

With its headquarters at Salisbury-Wicomico-Ocean City Regional Airport, Piedmont recently hired about a dozen people in Salisbury for jobs related to those new jets. The first of the Embraer 145 regional jets left Philadelphia on Feb. 11 for a trip to Albany, N.Y.

Many people in the community don’t know that Piedmont does much more than fly routes to Philadelphia and Charlotte from the Salisbury airport. From its headquarters here on Delmarva, the company services routes for American on the East Coast.

“The headquarters is here, so new employees have been hired to work on the transition and move us into the jet age. They did the behind-the-scenes jobs to get the jets on our FAA certificate,” explained Jackie Jennings, Corporate Communications Director.

“This is good news for Salisbury because, truly, this is a Salisbury company that employs 6,000 people around the country,” Jennings said, clarifying Piedmont operates as American Eagle and is owned by American Airlines.

Jennings said that nationwide about 1,500 more people have been hired in the past 18 months, although their jobs are not jet related, but for ground operations, she said. About 250 new pilots will come aboard, as well.

If jets do come to Salisbury eventually, no upgrades will be needed to the local airport, or its runways, said Airport General Manager Bob Bryant.

The arrival of jets into the fleet was right on target, since 14 months ago, American announced it would get them in 2016. Jennings said the significance is, as turbo-props went away, a replacement was needed, “and this is it.”

“The company tries to match the aircraft to the route. Turbo-props are more fuel efficient, but jets are faster. They both have a seating capacity of 50 people,” she said.

All the jets will leave from Philadelphia, with destinations including Albany and Richmond.

“This launch opens the door to jets coming here someday, although it is not on the schedule right now. We can’t rule out jets for Salisbury, though. We’d like to see it.”

“Either way, this is a huge milestone for Piedmont Airlines.”

The late Richard Henson was the founder of Henson Aviation. He moved to Salisbury in the 1970s and became one of its outstanding citizens and philanthropists. In 1983, Henson began an ownership transition with Piedmont, which ultimately resulted in the Salisbury company that exists today.

The carrier continues as Henson’s legacy in the community.

Piedmont President Lyle Hogg told the Salisbury Independent that he was certain Henson would have approved of the company’s expansion into jet aircraft.

“He would have been very excited and very supportive of it,” Hogg said. “Mr. Henson was always very interested in new aircraft, fast aircraft. He had his own jet that he flew.”

Henson is known in the industry for his affinity for the Canadian-made De Havilland Dash 8, an industry workhorse that’s not exactly known for being sleek

“The Dash 8 came into service in 1984,” Hogg said, “and it was state-of-the-art at the time. (Henson) had design input on that plane. He was always interested in the right equipment for the right use.”

Jets 2

Salisbury to Charlotte?

American Eagle Flight 4855 made history for Piedmont on Feb. 11, but was a routine flight to the 34 passengers on board. It took just 51 minutes and launched Piedmont into the jet age.

“This is just the very beginning of our expansion,” Hogg said after that flight. “It was a monumental task to introduce jets to Piedmont and now we need to build on that momentum.”

Because of the short distance, the jets would be impractical for service from Salisbury to Philadelphia, the primary hub served from Salisbury.

Flights to Charlotte could, however, be candidates for jet useage.

“The jets are more efficient at high altitudes and on longer trips,” Hogg said. “The prop planes are more efficient to Philadelphia.”

Hogg said he envisions continuing growth for Piedmont, which will benefit the Salisbury economy.

“We’re going to continue to grow the airline,” he said. “There will still be a need for the turbo-props and we’ll continue to fly turbo-props into (the year) 2020.

“We’ll continue to add jets too; we are committed to adding new planes,” he said.

Hogg said employees in the Salisbury-based workforce “are very excited” about entering the jet age.

“They’ve been flying Dash 8s for a long time and are excited to be a part of the transition,” he said. “The Dash 8 is a workhorse of an airplane. Thank goodness we had those planes to service the small airports.”

Piedmont recently extended its lease at the county-operate airport, and he complimented County Executive Bob Culver in seeking an extended deal. He said the company and the county are on good terms.

“We met with Bob Culver and his team last Tuesday. There’s nothing pressing is on the agenda. They’re happy to have us here,” Hogg said.

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Reach Susan Canfora at scanfora@newszap.com.

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