Harrisburg Int'l Airport Deals With Drop in Traveler Numbers

Feb. 23--The number of travelers flying into and out of Harrisburg International Airport last month was 9 percent less than in January 2005, HIA officials reported Wednesday.

HIA Executive Director Fred Testa said fewer passenger seats were available in January this year. Last October, TransMeridian Airlines filed for bankruptcy and stopped offering nonstop flights from HIA to Orlando, Fla.

Testa also cited the impact of what he called temporary bankruptcy-related service reductions at HIA by Northwest Airlines Corp. and Delta Air Lines Inc. Both airlines are operating under bankruptcy protection.

As of Jan. 3, Minnesota-based Northwest had eliminated its two daily flights out of HIA to Minneapolis, HIA spokesman Scott Miller said. The first of the Northwest daily flights was cut when the airline filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in September, he said.

Northwest spokesman Dean Breest said Wednesday that one of the two flights out of HIA to Minneapolis will resume on June 18.

"We're anxious to get the flight back," Miller said, adding that Minneapolis is the fifth most popular destination for travelers flying out of HIA.

Northwest continues to offer four daily flights from HIA to Detroit. Miller said the airline has increased the number of seats available on two of those flights by switching to larger jets.

Testa also reported that US Airways in recent weeks has increased the size of planes used for several of its daily flights out of HIA to Charlotte, N.C.

David McIntosh, a member of the Susquehanna Area Regional Airport Authority that owns and operates HIA, cautioned Wednesday against reading too much into the January decline in passenger traffic.

"The way you look at things is over the long term. Over the past six years the totals have averaged out quite consistently. Let's not get into a panic because it was down 9 1/2 percent," McIntosh said, referring to the difference in passengers using HIA last month compared to January 2005.

The number of passengers using HIA was down 5.9 percent for all of 2005 compared to 2004. Airport officials blamed the decline on the airline bankruptcies, high fuel prices and lower fares available at Baltimore-Washington International and Philadelphia International airports.

But Testa noted that the 1.3 million passengers who used HIA last year is only about 2,000 fewer than in 2000. "It comes to six people a day, and that's the difference" compared to six years ago, he said.

The board Wednesday approved a revised 2006 budget that projects about $1.7 million less in revenue due to the decision last month by AirTran Airways to cancel service it had planned to offer at HIA starting in May.