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Westchester airport seeks cost cuts to cover AirTran loss

An Orlando-bound AirTran waits on the tarmac of

An Orlando-bound AirTran waits on the tarmac of the Westchester County Airport. AirTran flights will not be available from the airport after tomorrow. (Aug. 10, 2012) Photo Credit: Faye Murman

Westchester County Airport will not raise fees to offset the loss of AirTrans Airways, and will instead try to cut costs as it searches for a new carrier to replace the lost revenue, a county spokeswoman said.

When Flight 577 to Atlanta takes off from the runway Saturday evening, the airport's ties to AirTran Airways will be officially over. That follows United Airlines' decision in June to end its daily service to Dulles International Airport after the company that supplied its airlines went out of business.

Combined, the two carriers served roughly 350,000 passengers last year, and their departures could result in a loss of around $2 million in operating revenue for the remainder of the year, officials said.

County spokeswoman Donna Greene said Saturday "there are no plans to raise fees," but she was not able to provide information on how the airport plans to cut costs or how long it can absorb the loss of the carrier's revenue.

"It's safe to say we'd like our airport to be operating at capacity," Greene said. "It's good for the airport and the traveling public to have flights at this airport."

Greene said the airport would be able to remain profitable for the short term, and it currently has enough money in its operating budget to cover the loss of AirTran's departure. She added that the county would not be on the hook for the lost revenue, and the county's primary focus is to attract a new carrier to replace AirTran and hope United succeeds in finding a replacement carrier for its Washington flights.

Five other airlines, as well as United service to Chicago's O'Hare, remain at the airport. County officials initially expressed hope that one of the larger remaining airlines, such as JetBlue or Delta, would expand to cover AirTran's exit. Representatives for both carriers said there were no such plans.

"At this time JetBlue has not added any additional flights into HPN, but we have upgraded flights to larger aircraft (from our 100-seat E190 to our 150-seat A320 planes)," Allison Steinberg, a spokeswoman for JetBlue, said in an email to Newsday.

"While we do not currently have plans to add additional service, we are constantly reviewing our network," wrote Delta spokeswoman Leslie P. Scott.

"AirTran had a good relationship with the airport. We couldn't keep operating and remain profitable. After looking at the numbers in the smaller markets, the customer demand wasn't there," an AirTran spokeswoman said.

AirTran's final flight is scheduled to depart at 6:26 p.m. Saturday. The Boeing 717 which seats 117 passengers is full, a spokeswoman said.

Despite AirTran's decision, Westchester has one of the healthier economic outlooks for public-use airports in the state, according to a state Department of Transportation report issued last year.

The airport had 2009 earnings of $334 million, generating $72 million in local and state taxes while providing 6,328 jobs, the report said.

It boasts one of the largest corporate aircraft fleets in the nation. Companies like IBM, JP Morgan Chase and Xerox all fly out of the World War II-era airport situated on 700 acres of land in Harrison.

But it's been the addition of discount airliners that caused the biggest bump to the airport's bottom line at a time when most airports were suffering through recession-related decreases in plane travel.

The airport served 1.9 million passengers last year, more than double the total in 2005 before JetBlue and AirTran arrived, according to airport data.

With Thomas Zambito and Karl de Vries

An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the airport planned to raise fees after AirTran's loss.

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