Carrier shifting the load; Continental to give Cleveland more flights, easing stress at Newark hub

Continental Airlines is expanding its Cleveland hub by 40 percent over the next two years, with many jets shifting from its congested Newark hub.

The carrier said it will initially add 50 flights, principally on regional jets, and add 20 nonstop destinations by next summer.

Most of the regional jets will come from Continental's Newark hub, and larger aircraft will be used at the New York City-area airport, the carrier said. Newark Liberty International is one of the most congested airports in the country.

More than a dozen additional flights, most with mainline aircraft, will be added at Cleveland by early 2009, Continental said in a statement announcing the expansion.

"This growth strengthens Cleveland and gives customers more options when connecting within the Continental system," Larry Kellner, Continental chairman and chief executive officer, said in a prepared statement.

Standard & Poor's analyst Jim Corridore said Friday that the move appears to be a strategic one for Continental.

"Continental has been growing domestically faster than most of the carriers," Corridore said. "The East Coast where Continental has its major hub other than Houston is very congested. I think they are just shifting their growth over to Cleveland."

Smaller jets, more flights

Many of the flights will be flown under the Continental Express brand, as Continental hires others to fly the smaller jets on its behalf.

These have become popular because they allow nonstop service from smaller markets - but the proliferation of regional jets also is cited as one cause of congestion in the busiest airports.

Continental is the biggest carrier at Cleveland's Hopkins International Airport. Cleveland is the smallest of its three domestic hubs.

The growth in Cleveland is expected to add 700 jobs. Continental is receiving $16 million in aid from the state of Ohio as part of the expansion, including aid for job training.

The expansion unveiled Friday is in addition to new service Continental already announced from Cleveland. The carrier added service to Quebec City in Canada in June. It is scheduled to add service to Oklahoma City and Ottawa by month's end.

In May of next year, Continental is launching seasonal service to Paris from Cleveland.

Upgrades for airport

Plans call for an expanded security checkpoint area at the airport, along with a new waiting area and additional ticket counters. Concession redevelopment also is under way.

Continental and airport officials also are reviewing options to expand or relocate the Federal Inspection Services facility, the city said in a news release.

In making the announcement Friday, Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson noted that the airline is making a significant investment in the city and the airport.