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Westchester County Airport hurting amid fewer flights, passengers

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) Photo Credit: Nancy Siesel

Westchester County Airport logged 3,100 fewer flights in 2012 than it did the previous year -- a 2 percent dip that officials attributed to a poor economy and 2012's departure of discount airline AirTran.

In 2012, there were 161,109 flights into and out of the airport, compared with 164,276 in 2011, airport figures show. The totals include both commercial and private aircraft.

Passenger totals also dropped by more than 150,000 from 2011 to 2012, according to a report presented Wednesday at the monthly meeting of the Westchester County Airport Advisory Board.

In 2012, 1.75 million passengers came through the airport, compared with 1.9 million the previous year.

The 2012 passenger total was the lowest since 2007, when 1.65 million passengers came through the airport as the recession took hold and cash-pinched travelers started choosing less costly modes of transportation.

The downturn comes as the airport faces an expected $2 million loss in revenue to its operating budget in the year ahead while efforts to replace AirTran have foundered.

The discount airliner shut down operations at the airport in August, abandoning the 10 flights that it flew into and out of the airport daily.

So far, none of the airport's six remaining airlines -- Delta, JetBlue, United, American, Cape Air and US Airways -- has decided to pick up the slots that AirTran left. At a lottery held two weeks ago, none of the airlines bid on the flights.

But board members were told Wednesday that airlines like Delta have increased the size of the planes that they're flying out of the airport in an effort to pick up the slack left by AirTran. Delta is currently flying 75-passenger planes, up from a previous 50-passenger model.

"They've picked away at the passenger allocation that AirTran held," said Pete Scherrer, the airport's general manager.

The airport maintains a strict limit of 240 passengers flying every half hour.

The expected hit to the 2013 budget forced the elimination of 35 full-time jobs for AVPORTS, the private contractor that runs operations at the airport, county officials say.

The expected $2 million dip is on top of the $1.7 million budget hit the airport took from Aug. 12, when AirTran left, to the end of December.

Scherrer told board members that the airline industry continues to make hard choices because of escalating fuel costs that have outstripped labor costs.

To make up the difference, Scherrer said, airlines are charge fees for headsets, movies and extra bags -- services once offered for free.

"The airlines have kind of thrown away customer service," Scherrer told the board. "They're going to hire contractors to do it at the cheapest price they can get. It's basically a game they're playing to try to generate more revenue."

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