MONTOURSVILLE – It’s not uncommon for flights at the Williamsport Regional Airport to dip down to one a day during part of the winter season; however, the pattern indicates a larger trend of poor ticket sales and highlights the struggle to bring a new airline to the region, officials say.
“From what I understand, American (Airlines) thinks this market is underperforming,” said airport Executive Director Richard Howell, who came to the airport in October 2019. “Is it going to be easy? No. Is it going to be an uphill climb? Yes.”
American Airlines is the sole commercial airline serving Williamsport.
Immediately upon taking his new position at the airport, Howell asked for a “leakage” study to be performed. Preliminary results show that roughly 600 travelers fly each day throughout the northcentral Pennsylvania region, however, fewer than 10% use the Williamsport Regional Airport.
A need for reliable service
While costs of flights do play a role in customers deciding to use other airports, Howell said, the most common reason comes down to reliability. He added that locals would be more willing to spend more for the convenience of a closer terminal, if they were certain the flight would leave on time or not be cancelled.
The primary cause of unreliable flights comes back to American Airlines, Howell said. While there may be a few other factors, ranging from weather and flight crew availability, the airline’s completion rate percentage from Williamsport to Philadelphia – its only hub – is around 60%. This is a dip from 88% in 2017, Howell said.
“We need something to change. Bringing in another airline is a big change. Getting American Airlines to open up another hub. That’s a big change,” Howell said.
Allegiant Airlines announced in June that it would be adding a new service for University Park Airport at Penn State. The news came as a hard blow to the Williamsport airport, which had been in talks to try and bring Allegiant here instead.
While Howell was not working with the airport at the time, he said bringing Allegiant here would have made sense.
“From what I understand, they were trying really hard to get them (Allegiant),” Howell said. “This is a good location for Allegiant … looking at what they do and what they see and markets they like to be in, it’s very surprising that they didn’t get Allegiant.”
But Howell doesn’t discount the low-cost, Las Vegas-based airline entirely. The close proximity to Penn State University means it may be a harder sell, but still a possibility.
“Allegiant may be someone we go talk to again, because our top five destinations are places they’re going,” Howell said.
Leisure over business
Preliminary results of the leakage study show that the airport’s top five destinations have to do with leisure, not business. Further down the list are a number of business locations, including Houston. If the airline could offer a different hub, perhaps to Chicago or Charlotte, then business travel may pick up, because it would mean travelers wouldn’t have to layover in Philadelphia.
A full copy of the leakage study will be available next week after Howell presents it to the Williamsport Municipal Airport Authority.
The yearly decrease in flights during part of the winter season is indicative of a lack of ticket sales from the airport and, Howell said, shows that the airline views it as a seasonal market rather than a business-class market.
“The carrier (airline) isn’t doing us any favors,” said Howell. “If we have a reliable and decent schedule, people will use it.”
Stimulate the market
Bringing another airline to the airport, or increasing flights through American Airlines, requires showing the airlines that money can still be made in the Williamsport region. Howell said that while the study shows a low percentage of tickets, it does still show a high volume of travelers – travelers that an airline may want to tap into.
But Howell said the situation is not as dire as many may think. There are a number of opportunities to grow the local market through community involvement and proper marketing strategies.
“There are a lot of communities that are in a lot worse shape than we are,” Howell said. “That we’ve had large amounts of service in the past is a big plus.”
Some cause for encouragement comes with the placement of a new American Airlines planner in Philadelphia, Howell said. The planner dictates flight schedules for the airline and is instrumental in determining how many flights and to which hubs Williamsport will have access.
Howell plans to meet with the new planner soon to discuss options for Williamsport.
In addition, Howell said applying for a Department of Transportation development grant may also provide a way to stimulate the market and entice a new airline to the area. The airport did have access to the grant in the past, but it expired because the department “didn’t see it going anywhere,” Howell said.
But the airport can apply again and probably will in the future. The grant can only be used for development, not to supplement an existing airline, Howell said. It is often used as a revenue guarantee to entice other airlines to service an area.
The grant requires a local commitment as well, either through funds or a commitment from community members or businesses to use the new service.
“When the tide comes in, all boats rise,” Howell said. “Our market will respond to stimulants.”
It was a waste of our tax dollars
I absolutely would use Williamsport Airport if it is Allegiant. Flew out of Williamsport last year to Orlando. Flight down wasn’t bad. However flight back we had layover in Phila. For about 5 hrs. (The original flight time was changed after we made arrangements
We are driving to Harrisburg this year to fly Allegiance. Please do something about American.
This is a real eye-opener of an article about transportation in this region. One thing that really jumps out of this article is the lack of any sort of marketing and promotional effort by the airport authority or the airline. Since it is the authority’s responsibility to make the residents of the region aware of their services, they should be investing in a regular advertising and promotional campaign effort. I know many local residents who drive to Harrisburg because they were not aware of how efficient it is to fly out of Williamsport. Many believe there are only a few flights each week.
For the members of the airport authority, it is not enough to assume everyone knows about the facilities because a story ran in the local paper when you broke ground on the new building. You need to create a steady campaign to remind everyone you are here. It is this kind of effort that will drive business and when you present this strategy to other competing airlines, it gives them an incentive to take a closer look at the value of our region.
I concur with Mr. Shableski. We like to fly out of IPT when possible. Living in northern Tioga county we are about 45 minutes from ELM and 60 minutes from IPT. Both are readily accessible to us, but here’s the kicker. Usually flights are cheaper out of IPT. The area hotels in Williamsport do not heavily advertise a stay, park, and fly option. Hampton Inn downtown Williamsport say they have a shuttle service, but not until 6:30 in the am. Holiday Inn and Holiday Inn Express offers a shuttle service for the early flights. We actually have taken the shuttle with the pilots in the am. Why this isn’t advertised more is beyond me. In my estimation it would be a win-win for everyone. Being able to leave your vehicle at the hotel for free and forgo paying for parking at IPT is also a savings. Driving down to IPT in the daylight, get a hotel room, go for supper, and catch a shuttle in the am. Show me the downside…Also, Philly is not the easiest to make a connection. You arrive at F terminal and in some instances it’s a dead run to make your connection over in the main terminal. I feel it’s all about marketing. I have friends who live in Williamsport and to them the world starts and ends at the city limits. It all comes back to marketing and advertising. As for Allegiant in ELM they fly to 3 locations all nonstop, PIE, Punta Gorda, and Sanford. MCO is already butting heads with SFD over Orlando. How about Allegiant flying nonstop from IPT to Melbourne. Home of the space coast where tourism is really starting to pick up or have American offer IPT to PIT for connections. IPT to CLT would be good also. Just my two cents.
I was a young lad then but I remember when Capitol Airlines offered Washington DC to Williamsport service. Is that a viable idea?
I fly often, abd have been for over 25 years.
The new airport is even more of a dud than the vintage one. Already within a year or so if it being “all new”, and multiple flights through IPT, departing and arriving … the departing hours of delays and the amateur “TSA staff” on top of the delays are a joke.
I often pay extra to fly to a regional airport for the convenience factor. No more will I waste money to have hours of delays. I can literally get to Philadelphia faster (one way!) than the time it took for the last delay by simply getting a rental at Philly, driving to Muncy/Williamsport area, and drivng back.
What a great waste of tax payer money for this garbage new airport.