Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Int'l Airport Sees Passenger, Profit Loss

PITTSTON TWP. -- The new year started off on a down note for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport with a drop in passengers and net operating loss of $67,389 in January.

The long-range forecast for the year also shows expenses outweighing revenues for a net loss of $85,630, according to the proposed 2006 operating budget presented Thursday at the airport board?s monthly meeting.

The drop in the number of people boarding planes ended a 23-month string of increases. The airport has been comparing monthly enplanement figures against the same month from the previous year. January?s total of 15,978 was 133 less than the January 2005 count of 16,111. The 0.8 percent dip marked the first decrease since the January 2004-2003 comparison. Assistant airport director Mike Conner described it as ?just a lull? in business.

Additional expenses associated with operating the new $36 million terminal, scheduled to open sometime this spring, plus increased costs in nearly all other areas of the airport?s operation contribute to the loss.

Although the airport isn?t expected to turn a profit this year, Luzerne County Commissioner and board vice chairman Todd Vonderheid said the airport is improving its financial condition on its own.

?I think it?s important to make it clear that there are no operational subsidies from either Luzerne or Lackawanna in this ? budget,? Vonderheid said.

Board chairman and Lackawanna County commissioner Robert Cordaro, added, ?The budget?s good gentlemen. We thank you for your work on it.?

The elimination of county subsidies in 2004 has saved taxpayers millions of dollars, he said.

But airport director Barry Centini confirmed that the counties still fund the airport?s capital budget. This year they have been asked to contribute $450,000 each for terminal construction costs, plus another $600,000 each to build the new restaurant/bar and gift/news shop in the terminal.

The airport chose to build out the concession space for $1.2 million and lease it to its current restaurant operator Leo Vergnetti without putting the concession contract out to bid.

The board had met in private several times before approving the five-year lease last month for LPV Enterprises Inc. of Scranton.

On Thursday the board publicly approved terminal leases for the airlines: US Airways, Delta Connection Comair, United Express, Continental Connection, Northwest Airlink and Hooters Air. The airlines will pay an annual rate of $26 per square foot for a total of $184,366 in rent. In addition they will be charged for common use space such as the baggage areas and boarding gates and pay a landing fee of $2.68 per 1,000 pounds of landing weight.

The airport expects the airlines to come up with an additional $652,259 to cover design and construction costs associated with the terminal. The board approved a reimbursement agreement for that amount with the airlines.

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