Fewer Passengers Used Lehigh Valley Int'l Airport in March

Fewer flights by Northwest Airlines and Delta Connection contributed to a 9.2 percent decline in the number of passengers traveling through Lehigh Valley International Airport in March.

The airport reported a total of 66,789 passengers last month, its lowest total for March in more than 10 years.

So far this year, passenger traffic is down 5 percent at LVIA, compared to last year. In 2005, airport traffic fell nearly 18 percent to the second-lowest annual passenger totals in the past five years. Traffic fell every month in 2005, compared to the previous year, except for December.

Airport officials said the drops on Northwest and Delta last month are because the carriers have reduced the number of flights at LVIA and substituted smaller planes. Both airlines are operating under bankruptcy protection. Northwest now flies three daily flights to Detroit, down from four, and Delta has three daily flights to Atlanta, down from four.

US Airways, the No. 1 carrier in passengers and daily departures, remained essentially unchanged from last year.

"Even though Lehigh Valley travelers are choosing other airlines such as United, US Airways, and Continental, at this time there just aren't enough seats in the market," said George Doughty, executive director of Lehigh-Northampton Airport Authority, which runs LVIA.

Doughty said traffic should rise when Allegiant Air, which flies to Orlando, increases flights in late May.

United Express was the only airline at LVIA that saw a significant increase in the number of passengers in March. Its traffic rose 14 percent, to 13,962, making it the airport's No. 2 carrier. United flies to Chicago and Washington, D.C. Traffic rose slightly on Continental, which flies daily to Boston and Cleveland, and on Air Georgian, which flies to Toronto.

Since 1999, LVIA has topped 1 million in passengers twice: in 2000 and in 2004. The airport experienced a particularly busy period in 2004 when Southeast Airlines flew low-priced flights to Florida. The tiny discount Florida carrier was the No. 1 carrier for passenger volume. It abruptly ceased operating in November of 2004.

The airport has struggled to keep a consistent carrier for popular nonstop flights to Florida. A year ago, both TransMeridian Airlines and Lehigh Valley Air were flying from LVIA. Those airlines flew a combined 7,237 in March of 2005.

TransMeridian ceased operating in the fall. Lehigh Valley Air was launched by the airport authority and a tour operator. Hooters Air took over Lehigh Valley Air's flights a little less than a year ago.

Hooters, which is run by the same company that operates the well-known casual restaurant chain, flew its last flight at LVIA on Monday. Like other airlines that have come and gone at LVIA, it cited high fuel costs. Hooters officials also said it's difficult to charge enough to make money on leisure flights.

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