American Eagle helping Wilkes-Barre Airport numbers soar

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July 16--PITTSTON TWP. -- The addition of American Eagle Airlines last month at the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport lifted passenger numbers out of a lengthy slide that lasted more than a year.

The 1,752 people who flew the new service accounted for a 3.1 percent increase in boardings when June's numbers were compared to the year earlier period, according to data provided by the airport. Last month there were 19,461 boardings compared to 18,874 in June 2009.

"This is the first time in 17 months that we've shown a positive in our enplanements," said airport Director Barry Centini at Thursday's airport board meeting.

"I attribute a lot of that to American Airlines and to some of the pricing that we've had," he told the board, made up of the commissioners of Lackawanna and Luzerne counties.

The airport matches or beats fares on some flights out of Lehigh Valley, Philadelphia and Newark international airports, according to a price survey done Tuesday using the online service Travelocity.com. For example, a round-trip flight to Los Angeles, Calif., booked two to three weeks in advance on Continental or Delta airlines out of Wilkes-Barre/Scranton matched the $278 price out of Lehigh Valley and Philadelphia. The fare out of Newark was $318.

But a flight to Orlando cost $158 out Lehigh Valley and Newark and $168 out of Philadelphia. Flights to the same destination out of Wilkes-Barre/Scranton cost between $198 and $264.

Not since December 2008 has there been a year-over-year increase in monthly numbers, a comparative measure of the airport's passenger activity. Back then there was a difference of 140 passengers between the 16,277 in December 2008 and 16,137 in December 2007. The slide started in January 2009 and continued through last May. During that time, however, the airport lost flights and the airlines cut the number of outbound seats.

Centini said two daily flights to Chicago O'Hare International Airport on the regional carrier of American Airlines added approximately 100 seats. He expressed optimism the new commercial service and the weekly charter flights by Boscov's travel service to Orlando would boost passenger numbers and airport finances.

The airport reported a net operating income of $15,937 in June. But for the first half of the year, it had a net operating loss of $188,341.

Jerry Lynott, a Times Leader staff writer, can be contacted at 570 829-7237.

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