Lancaster Airport considers new, low-cost direct flights
By Patrick Burns, Contributing Writer
Lancaster Airport officials are considering a partnership with a low-cost carrier to provide direct flights to Orlando and possibly Las Vegas.
The Lancaster Airport Authority Board announced Monday that Las Vegas-based jet-service carrier Allegiant Air seeks to offer leisure travel service from Lancaster and might even bring tourists back to Central Pennsylvania on its 150-seat McDonnell Douglas twin-engine jets.
Though there’s no proposal on the table yet, Marvin Miller Jr., airport authority chairman, said Allegiant could offer one-way flights from its fleet of 58 MD-80 aircraft from Lancaster to the Disney area for less than $100. Lancaster Airport completed preparations for commercial jetliner service with a $22 million runway extension project in November 2005 that added 1,600 feet to advance the main runway to 7,000 feet.
But Miller offered an immediate caveat Monday: “We know what Allegiant doesn’t do, and they don’t do anything on the local level that costs money.”
Allegiant would deploy to Lancaster only a few days per week, requiring a very limited part-time staff, he said. Miller suggested a deal would obligate the airport to subsidize a portion of up to $300,000 in terminal modifications and fund most of the local operations at the airport.
“Basically, Allegiant would like to come here and fly two flights per week,” Miller said. “We would do all the turnaround, all of the staffing, and we would do all the baggage. But they’re not putting any money on the table for this, and that’s the real problem.”
Allegiant Air, which serves 73 cities and seven hubs, specializes in low-cost service to small- and medium-size markets. It approached the board in early 2009 expressing an interest to provide two weekly nonstop flights to Sanford, Fla., north of Orlando.
That deal never closed as Lancaster Airport contracted with Cape Air to replace a US Airways Express contractor that ceased flying to Pittsburgh in September 2008 after its three-year federal subsidy expired.
Hyannis, Mass.-based Cape Air, which also operated using federal subsidies, initiated service in March 2009 to Baltimore-Washington International but last month announced it wants to cease operation in Lancaster and Hagerstown, Md.
The U.S. Department of Transportation has solicited proposals from airlines interested in serving Lancaster. Cape Air is contractually obligated to maintain service there until one is found.
The switch to Allegiant's vacation destination service would come at the expense of the business/commuter service provided by Cape Air. Its planes to and from BWI were 27 percent full its first year here, rising to 35 percent in 2010 and 42 percent last year, when it carried 13,624 people.