The Bi-County Airport Board, which oversees the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport in Avoca, must prepare for a future in which US Airways reduces its service. The board should aggressively solicit additional carriers, especially JetBlue, which flies out of a half-dozen airports within two hours of here and has recently expanded its Pennsylvania presence.
With American Airlines calling the shots, US Airways is the minority player in their ongoing merger. American abruptly pulled its service from our airport a couple of years ago, despite its service to Chicago/O’Hare performing well. Indeed, a number of small airports saw reductions in service when United Airlines and Continental Airlines combined forces. No doubt, American will closely examine all of its routes when its merged network is in place.
Meanwhile, JetBlue – which until this year had flown to only one Pennsylvania airport: Pittsburgh – is doubling down on this state. In short order, JetBlue turned a profit on its new shuttle service between Boston/Logan and Philadelphia, a route where no other carrier has been able to successfully compete against US Airways. The results were immediate, with fares on that route a fraction of what they had been. Now, JetBlue is looking to further expand its presence in Philly.
As JetBlue builds out its Pennsylvania route network, it’s noteworthy that it already flies to airports similar in size to, if not smaller than, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. Within a two-hour drive of here over the New York border, travelers can board JetBlue flights from Stewart/Newburgh and Westchester County airports. JetBlue service also can be had at Syracuse/Hancock, Newark/Liberty, New York/LaGuardia and its hub at New York/JFK.
It’s vital that our board gets out in front of any changes to service here by going on the offensive in luring new carriers, such as JetBlue. The board was successful in getting Allegiant here, and that was a great start. But with Allegiant the only non-legacy carrier flying out of our area, our airport is vulnerable to additional service cuts.
The board’s six members – James Wansacz, Corey O’Brien and Patrick O’Malley of Lackawanna County and Richard Williams, Robert Lawton and Stephen A. Urban from Luzerne County – should be brainstorming ways to get JetBlue here. Would a creative marketing campaign help? How about reducing or temporarily eliminating landing fees?
A quick perusal of the board’s minutes shows recent meetings have focused primarily on mundane topics such as display signs and banners.
With a massive merger in play, the board can’t afford to rest on its laurels. Air service here is too critical to the region’s success.