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Last updated: February 16. 2013 4:46PM - 520 Views

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PITTSTON TWP. – Allegiant Airlines has not added flights at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport for its fall schedule, but the airport's director said he's hopeful a flight to Florida cities Tampa or Ft. Lauderdale will be considered for next year.


Of course if you believe a report issued this month by a Washington think tank, there may not be a next year for commercial flights at the local airport and 105 others nationwide.


According to an analysis by the Center for American Progress, as many as 106 U.S. airports -- including Wilkes-Barre/Scranton -- could lose air traffic control service and effectively be shut down under automatic spending cuts scheduled to take effect Jan. 2. That's a notion Airport Director Barry Centini and board Chairman Corey D. O'Brien scoffed at after Thursday's meeting of the airport's Bi-County Board.


Still, Centini feared publication of the report could damage airports on the list.


"Our concern with something like this is that it scares people," Centini said.


He fears potential passengers might hear about the report and choose to fly from another airport instead of risking that a flight might be canceled because of Federal Aviation Administration cuts.


While Centini said there's no way to rule out anything, he has been given no indication the airport would stop commercial flights next year. He said employees and contractors that lease space at the airport also don't seem concerned. Only one person, an employee at a rental care company that leases space at the airport, inquired about the report's impact on her job, Centini said.


O'Brien said he finds it hard to imagine the FAA would just pull flight controllers out of more than 100 of the nation's airports, especially after it's spent millions upgrading facilities and security. The federal agency spent $18 million on a new control tower that will open Aug. 29 at the airport in Pittston Township, and O'Brien noted, when the new terminal, parking lot and other upgrades are considered, "for all intents and purposes we have a new airport."


"That would not make sense for the federal government to walk away from a fully renovated airport that it paid for," O'Brien noted.


Even without commercial flights, general aviation would continue.


Gary Stanley, of Montrose, was dropping off his neighbor for a flight to Philadelphia Thursday and said he uses the airport whenever he flies. He was unaware of the report but said with all the talk of budget crunching going on within the federal government, he wouldn't be surprised if some level of cuts were made.


Centini said there were other ways to save money besides completely shutting down commercial flight operations. He cited manning the control tower for fewer than the 24 hours a day it's currently staffed as one option.


But until an official word comes from the federal government, O'Brien said airport operations will not be altered.


"I don't think a hypothetical by a think tank is going to have a dramatic impact on airport operations," O'Brien added.


A FAA spokesman declined comment on Thursday.


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