Randy Griffith The Tribune-Democrat
In the Spotlight | World traveler counts on Johnstown’s airport
December 3, 2023
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  • In the 16th century, it took one of Ferdinand Magellan’s five ships three years to go around the world.

    Josh Ensley flew out of John Murtha Johnstown-Cambria County Airport on Thanksgiving Day and expects to make the trip in 17 days, including time for sightseeing, visiting his girlfriend April Liza’s family, and working with organizers at an international business convention along the way.

    His current trip may be a little longer than most, but international travel has become a big part of the Conemaugh Township Area High School graduate’s life.

    Ensley, 37, didn’t start out trying to be a jet-setter. After spending time in the Army and graduating from the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, he did some graphic design work for several local companies, including Johnstown Magazine, ACRP and Von’s United Beverage.

    He eventually found opportunities to be limited in the small-city economy and took other jobs to get by.

    He was working at Balance Restaurant in Johnstown when a friend approached him about working as a contractor in the convention and conference industry.

    “He said, ‘See if you like it and see if you can get the software,’ ” Ensley said during an interview at the Johnstown airport. “Nothing really led me into it. I guess I just lucked out.”

    The job involves coordinating registration for events with thousands of participants, printing coded name tags that limit access to certain areas, and providing information and guidance about various sessions during the events. Most conventions host about 15,000 people, with at least one convention in Spain attracting up to 50,000 attendees.

    “Luckily I was really good with software, and I had a minimum of experience with video production,” Ensley said. “I’ve taken a liking to it because I like to travel.”

    This year alone, Ensley has touched down in Mexico, Turkey, Netherlands, Germany, France, Spain and Japan. His current trip includes stops in the United Arab Emirates, India, Philippines and Taiwan.

    Ensley had just begun working with event organizers when the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic shut down the convention industry.

    “COVID happened and all the conferences went virtual,” he recalled. “All of the conference industry was in disarray.”

    That’s when his video production, networking and software skills came to the rescue.

    “I had a buddy who made virtual conferences,” Ensley said. “They can have all the conference materials on demand if you want to go back and watch stuff.”

    As the industry rebounded, Ensley’s experience with both in-person and virtual events became more valuable for the convention-organizing companies that he works for under contract. Many have become hybrid conventions, uniting in-person attendees with virtual participants.

    In addition to the onsite and virtual convention work, Ensley does video production and manages virtual conventions from an office in Westmont.

    Reliable jet service at the Johnstown airport has enabled the world traveler to spend more time in his home community. Most of his travel begins and ends at the Richland Township airfield.

    “I like having an airport that connect me to anywhere in the world is great,” Ensley said. “It’s been a blessing. I am very pleased to see what the Johnstown airport is doing.

    “I am one of the people who uses it most,” he continued. “I have almost a quarter million miles. I want to reach my million-mile level with United (Airlines).”

    Ensley’s experience illustrates what Johnstown-Cambria County Airport Authority members were hoping for when they endorsed SkyWest Airlines to replace Boutique Air to serve the airport under the federally subsidized Essential Air Service program, authority Chairman Rick McQuaide said.

    SkyWest’s air service operates as United Express between Johnstown, Dulles International Airport in Washington and O’Hare International Airport in Chicago, connecting local travelers to United Airlines’ massive network.

    McQuaide said the United partnership is key to the airport’s ability to offer international connections.

    “The airport is excited to hear any stories like that because it’s convenient and you can get anywhere,” he said. “It’s fantastic that people are starting to realize that you can fly anywhere from Johnstown.”