PITTSTON TWP. — For the second time in 11 years, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport is the recipient of a federal grant to entice airlines to offer new destinations or to increase the number of flights to current destinations.
The $575,000 federal Small Community Air Service Development grant will be used to encourage airlines to add flights to business and leisure destinations that are among the most requested by passengers.
Airport Director Barry J. Centini said that on the leisure side, he will look to add Myrtle Beach, S.C., Tampa Bay and Fort Lauderdale, Fla., as destinations. For business travelers, Pittsburgh and Washington are the targets.
Those destinations seem to be the ones many customers request or wind up taking connecting flights to get to when they embark from the local airport. He said the funds also could be used to entice airlines already operating out of Avoca to add additional flights to current destinations such as Atlanta.
The airport must add $300,000 to the endeavor in order to get the grant, something Centini said it would.
Money can be used for marketing, to guarantee revenue for airlines concerned about filling seats, to offset landing fees and to help pay for the relocation of equipment.
It can also be used for airport officials to travel to meet with airline officials to make pitches, Luzerne County Manager Robert Lawton, an airport board member, noted. But Centini said he doesn’t believe the airport will use the grant money for that.
Centini said these sorts of grants are attractive to airlines and he believes the airport will be hearing proposals shortly now that word is out.
“We will aggressively go out and talk to airlines,” Centini said.
Some members of the airport’s Bi-County Board questioned whether airlines could come in, use the money, and when it dries up decide to pull the flights from the schedule.
But Centini was quick to note that when the airport received a $650,000 federal grant in 2004, it was used to attract Northwest Airlines to bring three flights to Detroit. Those Detroit flights are still in operation, though under the Delta banner since Northwest merged with Delta in 2008.
Centini said some destinations, such as Las Vegas and Dallas, Texas, were not included in the grant as there are enough connector flights from other airports passengers can get to from Avoca. But he said the business flights to Pittsburgh or Dulles Airport in Washington would open up new avenues for travelers, and he believes there would be no problem filling seats on flights to those airports each week.
There are flights to Sanford-Orlando Airport from Avoca now, but Centini said other southeastern U.S. leisure destinations would also be attractive for regional fliers.
“We’re looking at where our passengers go and how we can better serve our community,” he said.
Whether the funds are used to land an additional flight to Atlanta is unclear, but Centini said ongoing discussions with Delta are promising and “we think that by summer we’ll have another Atlanta flight.” Currently there is one departing and one arriving Atlanta flight daily.
The grant was part of $11.4 million in total grant money dished out by the U.S. Department of Transportation to 25 airports under this program this year. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton is one of a handful of airports that have received multiple grants in the program’s history.
In recent years airports in Williamsport, State College, Harrisburg and Latrobe also have received funding ranging from $200,000 to $500,000.