Westchester County Airport yet to recoup flights lost by AirTran's departure

Westchester County Airport is a county-owned, public-use airport

Westchester County Airport is a county-owned, public-use airport in Harrison. (April 26, 2012) (Credit: Nancy Siesel)

Westchester County Airport got no takers this week when it put up for bid the 10 daily flights abandoned last year when discount airline AirTran left for good last summer.

None of the airport's remaining fleet of airlines -- Delta, JetBlue, United, American, Cape Air and US Airways -- requested any of the AirTran flights at a lottery staged at the airport Monday, according to Patricia Chemka, the county's deputy commissioner for public works and transportation.

Instead, two of the county-run airport's biggest operators -- JetBlue and Delta -- have steadily increased the passenger totals on jets they fly out of an airfield whose property touches on the towns of Harrison, North Castle and Rye Brook.


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Delta has bumped up the passenger capacity on many of its flights to 75 from 50. And JetBlue has moved up to a 155-seat jet, instead of one that held 100, according to Pete Scherrer, the airport's general manager.

Scherrer said most of the flights that leave the airport each day for spots like Florida and Chicago are filled to capacity.

"There used to be a lot of empty seats," Scherrer said. "Now on every plane the seats are packed. They're filling up all their seats."

As a result, Scherrer said, the airport has had to limit the number of planes leaving from the airport's four gates every half hour. Airport rules limit to a total of 240 the number of passengers that can be on jets coming through the airport every half hour. The limit is imposed because the airport's terminal can safely accommodate just 240 passengers getting on and off planes every 30 minutes.

MAKING UP FOR LOSSES

Like many regional airports, Westchester County Airport is struggling to regain passenger totals tallied before the lousy economy forced many major airlines to consolidate with onetime rivals.

Last year, the airport tallied 1.75 million passengers, down from 1.9 million in 2011. And some 3,100 fewer commercial and private flights came through the airport from 2011 to last year, a 2 percent dip.

Last year's totals were the lowest since 2007, when 1.65 million passengers came through the airport.

As a result, the airport is facing an expected $2 million loss in revenue to this year's operating budget unless it can find a way to make up for the absence of AirTran.

Airport officials are hoping that recent improvements to airport parking will make the airport a more attractive destination for travelers.

This month, the airport added a long-term parking lot half a mile from its main passenger terminal that can hold up to 300 cars. The lot will allow travelers to leave their cars for three days or more at a cost of $15 per day.

DROPS AT STEWART

Westchester County Airport isn't the only regional airport having trouble attracting customers.

Stewart International Airport in Orange County saw its passenger totals dip by 50,000 last year compared with 2011.

Stewart was the only one of the airports run by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to experience a drop in passengers last year. Last year, the airport logged 364,848 passengers, compared with 413,654 in 2011.

The downturn has forced the Port Authority to jettison, for the time being, plans to add a Metro-North rail link to the 2,200-acre former Air Force base in New Windsor.

Among the factors cited in Stewart's passenger drop was JetBlue's decision to shift to 100-seat planes instead of a 158-seater on many of its flights.

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