Traffic Rises at Lehigh Valley Int'l in Pennsylvania

Lehigh Valley International Airport saw a monthly gain in passengers for the first time since January.

Almost 66,700 people flew to and from LVIA in October, up 3.7 percent from the same month last year, LVIA said Wednesday. Continental, United Express and US Airways, three of the top airlines at LVIA, saw large gains in passenger counts.

It was a dramatic turnaround from the airport's Oct. 2005 performance, when passenger traffic plummeted 30 percent. A year ago, TransMeridian Airlines ceased flying. The airline had been flying popular routes to Orlando, Fla.

"I think that we have reached the point where we will see strong traffic going forward," said LVIA's top official, George Doughty. "Based on what we are seeing for next year, we will start approaching 1 million passengers again in 2007."

LVIA has twice reported annual passenger counts of 1 million or more. Last year, however, traffic declined 18 percent to 832,000 passengers, hitting the second-lowest level in five years.

Year-to-date, passenger traffic is down 7.3 percent at LVIA compared to 2005, a narrower decline from earlier this year. For the first nine months of the year, for example, traffic was down 8.4 percent.

The airport has been hurt by declines in Florida flights, as small carriers have failed, and service by several of LVIA's top airlines was cut back.

But last month, the top airlines rebounded.

Passenger traffic rose 27 percent on US Airways. The airline accounted for 31 percent of total traffic at LVIA in October. The airline, which has the most daily departures of any carrier at LVIA, now flies three times a day to Charlotte, compared to one trip a day a year ago. It also operates flights to Philadelphia and Pittsburgh from here.

Continental and United Express recorded 11 percent gains in their passenger counts, compared to last year. Doughty said most of the major carriers have returned to their previous levels of service, after a long decline that's largely due to bankruptcy filings among the airlines.

Airport officials believe Allegiant Air, which began flying here in December, will provide a foundation for passenger growth. The airline flew 2,245 people to Orlando, Fla., last month.

Allegiant will begin flying to St. Petersburg, Fla., today, adding a second destination at LVIA. Doughty said advance ticket sales for Allegiant's St. Petersburg flights have been strong.

LVIA has been busy courting AirTran, an Atlanta low-fare carrier that caters to business travelers. Last month, the airline posted a poll on its Web site to solicit support for 49 possible new destinations, including Allentown.

Internet users who visit can click on Allentown or Nashville, Tenn., or Salt Lake City, among other cities. The airline plans to announce at least one new destination before the end of this year.

Doughty said he has not heard anything definite from AirTran officials. Local organizations including the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce have sent e-mails to their members urging them to vote for Allentown.

So far this year, 655,476 passengers have flown to and from LVIA. Seven airlines fly from the airport, with about 45 daily departures.

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