Pennsylvania Airport Sees Traveler Declines

The total number of passengers was down more than 11 percent in July and 2.3 percent so far this year when compared to 2004 figures.

Aug. 25--With the first anniversary of the opening of its larger terminal approaching, Harrisburg International Airport is contending with declining passenger traffic.

The total number of passengers was down more than 11 percent in July and 2.3 percent so far this year when compared to 2004 figures.

Airport officials blamed fewer available seats for sale at HIA and a fierce fare war at Philadelphia International Airport, where some ticket prices are as low as $29.

"We're down 50,000 seats," said Clifford Jones, a member of the Susquehanna Area Regional Airport Authority, which owns and operates HIA.

The number of available seats on flights departing HIA has dropped 7.8 percent in the last seven months.

But in June, the overall load factor, which refers to how many seats are filled when planes take off, reached the highest level ever at HIA, Aviation Director Fred Testa said.

The problem, Testa explained, is that financially troubled airlines are flying smaller planes and regional jets with fewer seats, instead of large jets with more seats, out of HIA. "You can't sell what you don't have," he said of the number of seats.

Testa called US Airways, the dominant carrier at HIA, the "culprit."

Last fall, when US Airways closed its hub in Pittsburgh, it cut the number of daily flights from HIA to Pittsburgh from six to four, and four of those flights were on full-size jets with up to 148 seats. The remaining four flights are on 34-seat turbo-prop planes, Testa noted.

Some relief is on the way. US Airways will add a fifth daily jet flight to Charlotte, N.C., on Sept. 19 and will switch an early morning flight from a 50-seat to a 70-seat regional jet, HIA announced Wednesday.

United Airlines also is switching its morning flight to Chicago from a 108-seat Boeing 737 to a 145-seat Airbus 320.

Meanwhile, discount carrier Southwest Airlines has been competing with US Airways in Philadelphia, resulting in "an insane price war there" and a 25 percent increase in passenger traffic, Testa said. "No matter what Southwest says, they're trying to drive US Airways out of business," he added.

Philadelphia fares as low as $29, $49 and $79 also have hurt other airports in the region, including Allentown, where passenger traffic is down 20 percent, and Baltimore-Washington International Airport, where it's down 7.5 percent so far this year, Testa noted.

"We're only down 2.5 percent, so we feel we're riding the storm pretty well," he said.

Among travelers using HIA, 60 percent are business travelers, up 50 percent from last year, Testa said.

"We gained a lot of business passengers, but we lost a lot of leisure passengers," Jones said.

"My message to you is we've managed to recover a lot of our business travelers," Testa said. "Who could have foreseen what happened in Philadelphia?"

Monday will be the first anniversary of the opening of the new terminal at HIA. That $240 million project also included a new parking garage.


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