For years, local travelers have driven to Cleveland for lower air fares. The Allegheny County Airport Authority will spend $370,000 this year to try to keep them at home -- and to entice others here.
Authority board members unanimously approved a new marketing campaign yesterday designed to encourage travelers to fly out of Pittsburgh International Airport instead of Cleveland or another city.
Of the $370,000 to be spent, $50,000 will be dedicated to advertising in Youngstown, Ohio, which is roughly midway between Pittsburgh and Cleveland. The authority also will target Lawrence and Mercer counties in Western Pennsylvania.
The campaign comes as the airport has experienced growth in local traffic over the last year with the arrival of low-cost giant Southwest Airlines and the downsizing by dominant carrier US Airways, making for a more competitive market.
Last year, originating traffic totaled nearly 4 million passengers, a 230,000 increase over 2004. But airport officials believe they can do better. "I'm happy with the growth in [local traffic]. I think there's still some more opportunity here," authority Executive Director Kent George said.
The campaign will feature television, radio, billboard, newspaper, magazine and Internet advertising. The latter will include a contest that will send the winner to "American Idol" show tapings this spring.
This is the second full year for the campaign, part of an effort to convert Pittsburgh International, given the US Airways cutbacks, from a connecting hub to an airport built around local traffic.
Mr. George and other authority officials are trying to find new or existing carriers interested in providing more competition on popular nonstop routes now served by only one or two airlines.
Among the cities being targeted are Boston, Washington, Dallas, Houston and New York. Boston and Reagan National in Washington are now served exclusively by US Airways or its affiliates, Mr. George said. American and US Airways are the only two serving New York's LaGuardia.
"We need some competition on the routes and more frequency of flights," he said. The authority is offering incentives, like reduced landing fees and advertising allowances, to entice other airlines to try those routes.
With the demise earlier this year of low-cost Independence Air, which flew to Washington from Pittsburgh, last-minute walk-up fares to the nation's capital have soared to $700 to $800, from about $220, Mr. George said.
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US AIRWAYS; ENDS FLIGHTS; FROM HERE; TO 5 CITIES JULY CUTS SPELL; 76% DROP-OFF; FROM 2001 FOR; LARGEST CARRIER; AT THE AIRPORT
Pittsburgh International takes another hit
At this time last year, the airport was suffering aftershocks from the downsizing and dehubbing of US Airways in Pittsburgh.
With the collapse of the US Airways hub and the emergence of such low-cost carriers as Southwest Airlines and JetBlue, flying from Pittsburgh is no longer through-the-roof expensive.
A four-year-long retrenchment in Pittsburgh has left Charlotte as the largest hub in the US Airways network, with more than 500 daily departures and 121 nonstop destinations.