Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Pa. Airport Lauds Recent Increase in Flights

PITTSTON TWP., Pa. -- Vacation Express stopped service at the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport months ago. But the short-lived venture might be behind the increase in flights by other airlines, airport officials said.

Since the end of Vacation Express flights in September, the airport has added 15 daily flights.

The latest additions daily flights to Boston by the Continental Connection - were announced Friday. The regional carrier of Continental Airlines will fly 19-seat turboprop aircraft to Boston-Logan International Airport beginning March 21.

Our route map is filling up, said Barry Centini, executive director of the airport.

Hesitant to give Vacation Express all the credit, Centini said Continental looked at previous service by other airlines to Boston from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and figured it would be profitable to resume flights using the small aircraft.

However, the US Airways flight to Charlotte starting April 3, could be as a result of Vacation Express, he said. Now I see maybe that plays into the southerly traffic.

Vacation Express ceased service Sept. 7, two days shy of its six-month contract with the airport. It flew to Myrtle Beach, S.C., and Orlando, Fla. Lackawanna and Luzerne counties, which operate the airport, provided more than $800,000 in subsidies for the service, but cut off the funding because not enough passengers were flying on the jets.

Lackawanna County Commissioner Robert Cordaro, vice chairman of the airports board of commissioners, has defended the use of taxpayers money in the failed venture.

He acknowledged that Vacation Express was the wrong choice for the service, but the low-cost carrier spurred competition among the other airlines serving the airport.

We think a lot of good things have happened because of Vacation Express, he said,

The airport showed an 11 percent increase in the number of passengers boarding planes at the airport in 2004 compared to the previous year. The airport counted 201,760 enplanements and Vacation Express contributed 10,626 to the total.

The airlines took notice of the numbers and added flights, said Cordaro. I think that they see traffic can be driven through Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

The key to adding more flights and attracting other airlines is making sure the existing service succeeds, he said. He hinted that there could be more news about flights later this year, saying he is ''working on some things with an airline. He declined to provide more details.

The Continental Connection will start daily service to Boston-Logan International Airport from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport on March 21.

One flight departs from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton at 7 a.m. and arrives in Boston at 8:20 a.m., daily except Sunday. The other flight departs at 5:10 p.m. with a 6:30 p.m. arrival in Boston, daily except Saturday.

From Boston, one flight departs at 8:45 a.m. and arrives in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton at 10:05 a.m. daily, except Sunday. The later flight departs at 6:45 p.m. and arrives in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton at 8:05 p.m. daily, except Saturday.