Northwest Still Liable to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Airport

PITTSTON TWP -- Because it waived fees to lure Northwest Airlines, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport will not be among creditors barred from demanding payment after Northwest declared bankruptcy.

Going forward, Northwest will pay an estimated $14,000 in monthly fees to the airport beginning next month, as it restructures under Chapter 11 protection.

The airport agreed to waive boarding gate, baggage claim, jetway use and landing fees until Oct. 1 as part of the incentive plan to attract Northwest. The six-month waiver amounts to approximately $84,000.

Airport officials did not return calls asking for comment Tuesday.

Under the protection sought by Northwest, creditors cannot demand or collect prepetition debts owed prior to the bankruptcy filing last week.

The airline said it was swamped by heavy debt, high fuel costs and payments to its pension plans.

Delta Air Lines Inc., which provides service to the airport through its regional carrier Comair, also filed for bankruptcy protection on the same date as Northwest and cited similar reasons.

Comair began flying in and out of Wilkes-Barre/Scranton three years ago and any waiver of fees likely expired within the first year of service.

Spokespersons for the airlines said service will continue at the local airport and others across the country while the bankruptcy cases proceed. They added that it was too early to say what changes might be made over time.

It might take a while, said attorney Roy S. Kobert, who represents the Orlando International Airport in the bankruptcy cases.

After the bankruptcy filings, the airlines are operating in what is known as a post-petition environment, Kobert said.

Delta and Northwest have 60 days to decide if they want to stay or leave the Wilkes-Barre airport, he said. Kobert placed the deadline at Nov. 13.

What typically happens is the airlines will ask for more time, Kobert said. As long as theyre current on the post-petition payment they owe Wilkes-Barre, the court will grant it.

Airports often draw up leases with airlines saying the leases can be terminated because of voluntary bankruptcy filings, Kobert explained. Delta and Northwest filed voluntary petitions.

Wilkes-Barre/Scranton includes a section in its agreement with Northwest allowing the airport to cancel the lease by a 20-day written notice in the case of a voluntary bankruptcy.

It could not be determined if the airport has a similar agreement with Delta.

An airport, unless it has others waiting to fill the gate occupied by the bankrupt airline, is hesitant to cancel a lease, Kobert explained.

Unlike your typical landlord and tenant scenario, there are unique factors between the airport and its community, he said. The airport is usually the only one around and it provides choices and access to the community, he said.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press