Subsidization Deadline Looms for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Airport

PITTSTON TWP. - Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport officials have a little more than two weeks to apply for money to subsidize a new carrier to replace departing Hooters Air.

The deadline for applications to the Small Community Air Service Development program run by the U.S. Department of Transportation is April 7.

Each year the department awards 40 grants to airports nationwide for service improvements. But unlike the past four years when there was approximately $20 million available, the funding has been halved for the 2006 fiscal year.

The airport received $625,000 in 2004 that was used to attract Northwest Airlines and Hooters Air. The past award does not preclude it from applying again, said Bill Mosely, a spokesman for the U.S. DOT.

However, new funds cannot be applied toward a project that already received funding through the grant program.

Airport director Barry Centini was out of the office Monday and could not be reached for comment. But at the airport's monthly board meeting last week there was support for continuing with the subsidy program despite Hooters Air scheduled pullout from the airport on March 26, five months into its 11-month service contract. The airline said it was ending service primarily because of the high cost of fuel.

The airport used $246,875 of the earlier grant to subsidize Hooters' flights to Orlando, Fort Lauderdale and St. Petersburg-Clearwater. Of that amount $200,000 was a revenue guarantee for the low-cost charter service and $46,875 was for marketing the flights. In addition, Luzerne and Lackawanna counties each contributed $34,375 for the service. The counties each provided $25,000 as a revenue guarantee and $9,375 for marketing. The airport also contributed $9,375 for marketing.

Northwest, which started flights to Detroit last April, received $378,125, the greater share of the federal grant. The funding was split between $300,000 as a revenue guarantee for the carrier and $78,125 for marketing. In addition, the counties each put up $90,625 which was broken down into $75,000 as a revenue guarantee and $15,625 for marketing. Rounding out the local contributions, the airport budgeted $15,625 for marketing the service.

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