Harrisburg, Pa., Airport Serves Fewer Travelers in 2005

Jan. 26--Traffic at Harrisburg International Airport last year declined 5.9 from 2004, to 1.3 million passengers, airport officials reported Thursday.

Fred Testa, executive director of aviation at HIA, blamed the bankruptcies of several airlines that serve the airport and record-high fuel prices for the decline.

But HIA also has been a victim of higher fares when compared to ticket prices at Baltimore-Washington International and Philadelphia International airports, both of which are served by low-fare airlines.

HIA officials reported Thursday that a four-year campaign to bring one of those low-fare carriers, AirTran Airways, to HIA has failed.

Atlanta-based AirTran had planned to offer several daily flights to Atlanta from HIA, beginning in May, according to David McIntosh, a member of the Susquehanna Area Regional Airport Authority, which owns and operates HIA.

"Ten days ago they called and said it was unfortunate but they are not going to go forward with it at this time," McIntosh said. "Although disappointed, I think we understand what's going on in the airline industry today. ... To the airlines it's all about existing market and the potential for expansion."

It's also about the cost of moving passengers, which has risen with fuel prices, McIntosh added. "It's a difficult market, a very difficult market."

McIntosh said airport officials are continuing their marketing efforts, remaining in contact with about 10 airlines at any given time and "keeping the potential of HIA in front of them."

HIA is turning to the Harrisburg Regional Chamber and Capital Region Economic Development Corp. to market the old terminal building, which closed in August 2004 when the new terminal opened.

The airport board Thursday unanimously approved a six-month agreement that gives the chamber and CREDC exclusive rights to develop a marketing strategy and investigate redevelopment opportunities for the 20-year-old building.

The agreement, which has a six-month extension option, does not cost the airport anything, board member H. Glenn Manning noted.

Board member Eric Clancy said that in negotiating the agreement, "we also did make it clear that the use must be compatible with the airport. ... The tenant must make sense in the context of the airport. It's not a tenant at all costs. The alternative is to tear the building down, which is not disastrous. That's an option."

Dave Black, president and CEO of the chamber and CREDC, said the building offers about 100,000 square feet of usable space, with a commanding view of both the runway and the mountains.

"I really see it as a multi-tenant kind of building," Black said. "There are people who like to be near airports because they travel a lot or they have clients come in."

The chamber and CREDC plan to work with the local real estate community and contacts in the New York, New Jersey, Baltimore and northern Virginia areas, he said. Black suggested there might be opportunities to expand a nearby foreign trade zone to include the building.

Two previous attempts to redevelop the old terminal did not succeed.

The Buccini/Pollin Group of New Castle, Del., was supposed to work with The Sheward Partnership and Gilbane Building Co., both of Philadelphia, on a $14 million renovation of the building to Class A office space. But the project ran out of money, Testa said.

A state agency had been interested in operating a call center from the building, but it recently selected another site, he added.

In other HIA news, two members have joined the SARAA board. Cumberland County commissioners appointed Edward Kielkopf, a retired military officer, to replace Clifford Jones. And Dauphin County commissioners appointed Chad Saylor, chief clerk for the county, to replace Barbara Layne.