Pennsylvania Airport Narrows Passenger-Count Losses

Oct. 19--The drop in passenger traffic at Lehigh Valley International Airport compared with 2004 continued to narrow in September.

Year-to-date, passenger volume is down 16.8 percent at LVIA, compared with the same period in 2004. For the first three months of the year, traffic was down 25 percent from the same period in 2004. Traffic fell dramatically starting in December, after Southeast Airlines, the No. 1 carrier at LVIA, stopped flying.

More than 63,000 passengers flew to and from LVIA in September, or 11.9 percent fewer than the same month last year. Traffic dropped on Delta Connection, Northwest and US Airways last month, while more passengers flew on United Express and Continental's combined operations here. September is one of the weakest months for air travel.

Airport officials, who announced a new carrier at LVIA on Tuesday, cited high local ticket prices compared with fares offered by airlines at Newark Liberty International Airport and Philadelphia International Airport.

"The issue is pricing as far as I can tell," said George Doughty, executive director of the Lehigh-Northampton Airport Authority, which runs LVIA. "We go through these periods. It especially happens in the off-season when traffic is light. Right now, we have too many flights where our fares are not competitive."

The arrival of Southwest Airlines in Philadelphia is a factor in the pricing disparity, Doughty said. The Dallas airline, the largest low-fare carrier in the United States, is offering significant discounts to travelers in Philadelphia.

United Express, which flies to Washington, D.C., and Chicago from here, surpassed Delta Connection last month to become the No. 2 carrier behind US Airways. United's passenger count is likely to grow even more in coming months. Airport officials said United will replace its 30-seat turbo-prop planes on its four daily Washington flights with 50-seat regional jets in December. "I think the demand is definitely there," said Susan Kittle, LVIA's director of business development.

Allegiant Air will begin flying from LVIA to Orlando, Fla., in December. Hooters Air, which also flies to Orlando, remained LVIA's No. 5 carrier last month, edging out the combined Continental Express and Continental Connection operations.

Last year, more than 1 million passengers flew to and from LVIA. So far this year, LVIA has served 642,878 passengers.


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