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Many cities face flight cuts

At least 100 will see route cuts. Economic ripple effect may be broad.

SOURCE: The companies; Department of Energy/AP

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From Butte, Mont., to Hagerstown, Pa., more than 100 small and medium-size cities across the US will see reductions in airline service by year's end. Some communities will lose commercial service altogether.

Surging oil prices, driving up the cost of jet fuel, are behind the cuts. For the first time in aviation history, airlines are forced to reduce the number of flights offered and eliminate some destinations even as demand for their services remains high.

The result: It will be harder for many Americans to get from where they are to where they want to go, planes will remain elbow-room-only packed, and ticket prices will soar higher.

The aviation reductions will also produce economic ripples that extend far beyond those airports with newly empty tarmacs, some aviation experts warn.

"This is not about Butte. This is about the national economy," says Roger Cohen, president of the Regional Airline Association. "Commercial air service is part of the backbone of the American economy.... All of the industries that have grown up with cheap, competitive airfares over the last decade will be affected."

The impact of the service cuts probably won't be felt until 2009, because most aren't slated to go into effect until fall. The summer schedule has been pretty much set and sold for months. But here's the rub: Most of the tickets for the peak summer season were sold before oil skyrocketed above $130 a barrel. That means that even as passengers are packed like sardines into planes and it would appear that the airlines should be raking in huge profits, the carriers are actually losing money.

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