Has Harrisburg International Landed Low-Fare Carrier?

May 17--After months of trying to attract low-cost carriers to its regional airport, it looks as if Harrisburg International Airport has snagged start-up airline CQ Air.

The privately held carrier will likely make a "big announcement" about its intentions at HIA and its planned routes next week, said Mike Adams, CQ Air senior project manager. CQ Air's inaugural flight is expected to be in August.

Other than that, both the airline and the airport are mum.

Adams declined further comment.

Meanwhile, HIA Director of Aviation Alfred Testa Jr. revealed little.

"At this particular time, anything further than they have an office here and have made this their headquarters, I would refer you to the airline about the specifics about them," he said. "You understand that they haven't announced yet."

Timothy Tate, secretary of Susquehanna Area Regional Airport Authority, which oversees HIA, said he didn't know much about what CQ Air has planned at the Middletown airport.

"All I know is that CQ Air has leased some space from us at the airport for an office and I know that they were talking about making Harrisburg a hub," he said. "Hopefully, this will turn into something."

CQ Air's Web site is equally mysterious.

When visitors click on "Routes Map," there is a graphic that shows much of the eastern half of the United States -- with no cities served, no routes.

"Really, our secret is not out yet . . ." reads writing above the graphic.

Plus, the airline intends to change its name.

"The name CQ Air was given to the company during its initial inception phase and was never intended to be the actual name of the operating Airline," according to the Web site.

More information will be revealed after the "big announcement" next week, Adams assured.

HIA has been searching for a low-fare airline for more than a year, believing it would lure travelers away from Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport.

But HIA suffered a blow when its only low-cost carrier, TransMeridian, pulled out in early October after a failed restructuring plan.

The reason airports love low-fare airlines is because they bring potential for growth, said Kurt Forsgren, transportation group director at Standard & Poor's in Boston.

HIA officials would like to grow the airport to 6 million passengers over the next several years.

HIA reported 327,640 passengers for the months of January, February and March 2006 combined a 14 percent decrease from the period a year earlier. By comparison, BWI has about 20 million passengers.

Low-cost carriers also bring down the prices of competing low-cost carriers, "which boosts the effects of having a low-cost carrier," Forsgren said.

For more information about CQ Air, visit www.cqair.com.