Although the last commercial flight leaves Williamsport Regional Airport this afternoon, Richard Howell, executive director, is hopeful that after the year begins another commercial carrier can be found as air travel heads to its normal cyclical increase in spring.
He said he is “cautious optimism” that they will have a new carrier by spring, which could fly under the United brand. He noted that American Airlines is pulling out of three airports this week.
“The way the airline industry cycle is usually that they go through the year – summer is good,” said Howell. “They’re banking on November and December with vacation trips to take them through what we call the January and February cemetery.”
âFor a variety of reasons, people usually end their years of life and then they don’t travel. Travel will generally probably only resume in March â, he added.
Howell said after exploring the trend in a normal year and while the airport may have hoped to resume commercial flights this year, it just didn’t make sense.
âAs we were discussing this with different vendorsâ¦ what we found out that we were really doing was pushing this place where he really didn’t want to go, especially as bookings started to go down. “ he said.
“We knew we weren’t going to make any money for the carrier in January and February, so what really happened was we hated it, but we’re looking at something in the spring,” he said.
To critics wondering why a new terminal has been built now that commercial flights are ending, Howell was quick to point out that commercial flights have ended because of the pandemic.
âIf there hadn’t been a pandemic, we would now have two flights a day to Charlotte. “
“The delta thrust (variant) had a rather negative impact on the carriers”, said Howell. “Six weeks ago they were booking a lot more passengers than they are booking now.”
“When we built this building, there was no prospect of a pandemic on the horizon that would decimate the airline industry and the airlines,” he said.
Even though the commercial carrier will no longer be leaving the local airport, Howell said there is still a market here.
âOur customers don’t need a low-cost carrier rate; they will pay a reasonable price and sometimes even a little higher, because they have been doing it for years â, he said, adding that at one point 80,000 people are entering and leaving the airport.
“The other fact was that we had carriers saying to the authority: ‘We are not going to enter your market because your old terminal is not suitable for our operations'” he said.
Howell wanted to remind people that the airport will not close with the end of commercial flights.
âThe tower will be occupied for approximately 16 hours a day. We run everywhere, I think it’s around 20,000 operations a year inside and outside this place â, he said.
âThis morning when I arrived there were a few business jets. We have a lot of business in the region which stimulates business travel â, he added, noting that the business executives do not fly for business purposes, but have their own private jets to the local airport.
When companies are looking to locate in an area, one of the top five things they look at is whether there is reliable air service.
âIf the community doesn’t have reliable air service, you won’t even know they were considering your communityâ¦ he said.
“Looking at the rural demographics and things, people are moving here”, he added.
He said the market here is healthy with companies, colleges and factories that “Call this airport home.”
Airport workers should not be put on leave, although Howell said TSA workers could be relocated.