I doubt the situation at Harrisburg international will improve considering the airline industry is heading towards catastrophe
Harrisburg's ultra-modern airport operates at half capacity with 100 daily flights
Pittsburgh Business Times - by Kim Lyons
Despite its barely 4-year-old, ultra-modern airport, Harrisburg still struggles to take off with some businesses.
The proximity of Pennsylvania's state capital to other major northeast cities is a draw for some companies to put offices there, and many businesses say doing business in Harrisburg, with its low cost of living and relatively stable economy, is pleasant enough.
But the airport's lack of reach poses a challenge, enough that many make the hour-and-a-half drive to Baltimore-Washington airport in Maryland, rather than try to make a connecting flight out of Harrisburg.
"You can get flights anywhere in Pennsylvania easily, but most of the time, I drive to Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, or Baltimore-Washington," said John Quain, co-managing shareholder of the Harrisburg office of Pittsburgh law firm Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney PC. "There's not a lot of availability and variety of flights out of Harrisburg."
It qualifies as an international airport because it has a daily flight to Toronto, and has U.S. Customs facilities on site. Its $80 million, post-Sept. 11 overhaul has seven major airlines that fly about 100 flights daily, spokesman Scott Miller said. But Harrisburg International only offers flights as far west as Dallas/Fort Worth.
"We could handle twice the amount of traffic, but we need a partner who understands and realizes that," Miller said. "With a little break, we have the potential to really grow."
Harrisburg was the first airport to open after Sept. 11 with new government safety standards in place.
The new airport opened in August of 2004, two and a half years after the renovation project started.
However, Harrisburg International still lags behind its neighbors in terms of passenger volume.
The slashing of flights to Pittsburgh by US Airways -- it used to have six a day, now it has two -- didn't help, Miller said.
On average, the Harrisburg airport has about 2,500 departing seats per day, compared with 50,000 at Philadelphia International, Miller said.
Last year it handled between 1.2 million and 1.3 million passengers, he said.
One problem might be fares.
Looking at Harrisburg's top 15 domestic destinations for 2007, Harrisburg fares are, on average, 34 percent higher than those at BWI, according to FareReport.com.
The average one-way fare from BWI to Chicago is $129, compared with $239 from Harrisburg.
But Chris Detweiler, a Realtor with the Harrisburg office of Howard Hanna Real Estate Services Inc., said he doesn't see the airport as a detriment.
"I might if I had a job where I had to travel all over the country," Detweiler said.
But he said he and his wife are regular leisure travelers, who don't mind finding connecting flights at other airports to Europe.
"If I hit traffic on the way to Pittsburgh (International Airport), it may take longer to get there than just flying out of Harrisburg," he said. "There's never any lines, and it's really a breeze to get out of there easily."
Detweiler said the affordable housing in the region more than makes up for whatever trouble the airport might cause.
But Miller said the Harrisburg region appears to suffer from a bit of an identity crisis; while Harrisburg's official site refers to itself as the Center City area, the state's tourism office bills the eight-county region surrounding Harrisburg as "PA Dutch Country."
Miller said that designation may be great for Lancaster County, which seeks to attract tourists who want to see Amish people driving horse-drawn buggies, but probably is not as appealing to large companies doing business in Downtown Harrisburg.
"One of the challenges we face from a marketing standpoint is the perception: Central Pennsylvania isn't all farmland and rolling hills," Miller said. "When you look at all its ZIP codes, this is a 150,000-person city."
Miller also thinks a lack of cohesion among the counties surrounding Harrisburg hurts the airport's chances of becoming the economic engine it could be.
Thinking regionally doesn't come as readily to residents in the eight-county region surrounding Harrisburg as it does to Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, Miller said; he sees the area as somewhat parochial, which makes marketing the area's collective amenities difficult.
"You would think the Susquehanna River was the Great Wall of China," he said.
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